The NSW Government’s Parliamentary Secretary for the North Coast, Chris Gulaptis, says the region’s people should “trust the NSW Gas Plan” to make the Northern Rivers gas field free.
The Clarence MP said that the buyback of petroleum exploration licences (PELs) “has worked across the state and I don’t doubt that it will work in the Northern Rivers”.
According to the latest figures (released on July 6) Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts said: “The PEL buy-back scheme, Action 4 of the NSW Gas Plan, has now seen 15 PELs bought-back from titleholders and cancelled.
“We have now reduced the footprint of CSG from around 60 per cent of NSW to nine per cent.”
However, it’s a different story in the Northern Rivers; ironically, where much of the strongest community opposition has occurred.
The government has extended its buyback initiative by three months – the end point is now September 30.
Mr Roberts has told the ABC: “When the buy-back scheme is completed … we will then be publishing the costs of those buy-backs and making sure that this is a very transparent and open part of the [NSW] Gas Plan.”
Two PELs, 478 and 479, which were inactive, have been cancelled or bought back in the Northern Rivers – five PELs remain, either active or under negotiation.
Mr Gulaptis made his support for a gas field free Northern Rivers clear in the NSW Parliament in May 2014 when he said, in part: “They [the Northern Rivers community] want a gas field-free Northern Rivers. That is what I want, I know that is what my colleagues on the north coast want and that is the goal we should be aiming for as a government.”
When asked last week about his position regarding a failed motion to stop gas mining in the Northern Rivers (seconded by federal Page MP Kevin Hogan) that he put to the Nationals state conference in June, Mr Gulaptis said he supported Lismore MP Thomas George’s reasoning to not put the motion to a vote.
“What Thomas did was probably the right thing to do because, in essence, all of the matters that were raised in my motion were matters that the government [is] currently undertaking,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“It wouldn’t have been a good option to have the motion put up and then lost.
“There was opposition to the motion.
“…There are diverse opinions in relation to coal seam gas in the National Party, as there are in the community.
“In fact, the government was already undertaking the elements of the motion I put up.”
Mr Gulaptis said the government was amid negotiations with Metgasco in relation to their PELS – PEL 426 which covers much of the Clarence Valley, expired in February 2014 and is amid negotiations to be renewed, and PELs 13 and 16 to the north of the valley.
In April, the NSW Supreme Court quashed the NSW Government’s suspension of Metgasco’s tight sands and conventional gas drilling licence in PEL 16, where the Bentley protests occurred.
Mr Gulaptis said he didn’t “know exactly which leases, or how much of the area that [Metgasco] have under lease that we’re proposing to buy back” and declined to comment further “because I don’t want to compromise the negotiations”.
On why the government has so far failed to effectively implement the buyback scheme in the Northern Rivers region, which was the subject of gas-free declarations by the Nationals, Labor and the Greens during the March state election, Mr Gulaptis said: “Clearly the buyback is able to work best when there is mutual agreement between government and the licence holder.
“…when negotiations get tense they become a little bit more restricted when both sides are trying to extract the best deal out of it, so … I don’t really want to talk about the negotiations that are taking place.
“I think we’ll just leave that to the negotiators and put our faith in the NSW Gas Plan.
“It has worked across the state and I don’t doubt that it will work in the Northern Rivers.”