The state government has via the office of Coal Seam Gas moved to re-confirm the suspension of Metgasco’s exploration license in relation to the Rosella site at Bentley. In itself that is a positive outcome, and a sign that the vision of a Gasfield Free Northern Rivers in perpetuity is dawning as a serious reality.

Farmland not gasland

Photo by David Lowe

We all know that people power has been the driving force behind the government’s late realisation that Metgasco’s community consultation was deeply flawed. The government has now successfully sandbagged their original decision from Metgasco’s aggressive litigation, whilst also buying themselves time to consider their position leading up to the March 2015 state election.

Our community has been spared the ongoing saga of having Metgasco’s corporate ambitions imposed upon us by force, and we all get a break from the divisiveness that this industry generates. The hideous gas-seeking zombie has just lost another limb it seems.

Councils across the region have been sending a very clear message to the State Government that the Northern Rivers is united in its desire to remain gasfield free. Ballina, Lismore, and Tweed have already passed resolutions to this general effect and Byron is expected to follow suit very soon. Last week even Richmond Valley Council agreed to reconsider their position in a meeting set for August.

The momentum for the final cancellation of all PELs across the entire region is building steadily. The community now has a window to press home the advantage and demand that the state government do the democratic thing and respect our right to clean air and water, to a safe and productive environment and to a reasonable level of regional self-determination.

The same lack of community consultation that has characterized the Rosella site applies equally to all of the Petroleum exploration licenses (PELs) in the Northern Rivers held by Metgasco and by Dart energy. They are all tarred with the same brush, all flawed and all deeply unpopular. But the reasons to push for cancellation go well beyond mere technical concerns with community consultation.

The government is faced with a political problem that will not go away until the Northern Rivers is finally legislatively recognized as a Gasfield Free region. Several months ago the state government foolishly and no doubt at the behest of their mining industry friends removed a legislative provision giving them the power to revoke any PEL on public interest grounds with no compensation being payable. This provision needs to be re-instated as a matter of urgency so this issue can be resolved properly and permanently.

So whilst we have had an historic and powerful win at Bentley there remains much work ahead. We must rally and redouble our pressure upon state government for the final implementation of our vision of a Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.

In the months ahead it is important to seize the opportunity of the coming state elections to extract the commitments and actions needed. What we can all do is stay in contact with our local gasfield-free groups throughout the region and support the ongoing work of the regional movement through Gasfield Free Northern Rivers and the national movement through Lock the Gate. There is much to be done, pressuring local pollies, contributing time and money and taking part in any events, rallies or actions that take place in coming months.

There will be plenty of activity so stay tuned via the website or the gasfieldfreenorthernrivers Facebook page.

Thanks again to the entire regional community for its unwavering determination to secure a gasfield free Northern Rivers.

First published in the Nimbin Good Times, July, 2014, p. 4.


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