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People power wins historic CSG battle

Around 58 per cent of votes counted at Metgasco’s general meeting were in favour of accepting the government’s $25million offer to buy back the company’s three exploration licences, which were the last remaining in the Northern Rivers. While the Nationals and the NSW Government have claimed credit for stopping coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the Northern Rivers, it was people power that compelled the government to take action. Gasfield Free Northern River’s regional coordinator Dean Draper said: “We are ecstatic; this is something we’ve looked forward to for many years. “Finally some closure and an end to the torment and fear that has pervaded the Northern Rivers since this company started mining for coal seam gas here.” The Nationals put it this way: “The north coast Nationals team can announce that the party has secured a CSG-free Northern Rivers. “Metgasco has made a common sense and responsible decision at today’s annual general meeting to accept the government’s offer to buy back the company’s three Northern Rivers petroleum exploration licences (PELs) 16, 13, and 426 … [which] cover a total of 457,284 hectares in areas west of Lismore, over Casino and covering Grafton and surrounds.” Parliamentary Secretary for the North Coast and Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said “this successful outcome” fixed the “CSG mess left by Labor”. “The Nationals and the NSW Government have listened … and achieved a result that delivers for the people of the Northern Rivers.” Federal Nationals MP for Page Kevin Hogan said: “The local community can stand proud that we have made our voice heard and [that] the democratic process has delivered.” The NSW Greens said the outcome “should be a lesson to AGL, Santos and the coal industry”. Mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said the “Metgasco fiasco was a lesson about the importance of earning a social licence to operate”. “Metgasco patently failed to do this and the shareholders have paid the price,” he said. “Neither AGL in Gloucester, nor Santos in the North West have earned a social licence from those communities and should heed what has happened to Metgasco when contemplating the future of their coal seam gas projects.” Dean Draper, who was among a group of farmers and community members who attended Metgasco’s AGM to witness the vote, concurred with Mr Buckingham. “Metgasco never achieved a social licence here, they have never been welcome, our community has demonstrated loudly and clearly in many surveys, marches and actions that this dangerous industry is not acceptable here under any circumstances,” he said. “Taking the buyout deal was the best way out for Metgasco; they would never have been able to operate here. “It’s just a pity they didn’t take our advice earlier, as they would have saved themselves and the government a lot of money. “The community will again have the confidence in the safety and long term sustainability of the region which is sure to fuel a lot of investment and growth in our region.” But it was the Grafton Loop of the Knitting Nannas that put it bluntly. “This is a win for people power – not politicians,” Grafton Nanna Lynette Eggins said. She said it was the determination of thousands of local community members over more than five years that won the day and vowed that the “Nannas will still be around and will be watching [for] any move to re-issue PELs in our region”. Metgasco board chairman Len Gill, who advised shareholders to take the government’s offer, was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald to have said: “This is a very disappointing day for all of us who believed in an oil and gas exploration in the Northern Rivers. “We are not defenders of the NSW government and its actions; but it is also our job as board members to negotiate robustly and put the best option to shareholders.” Metgasco has reportedly spent $120 million on its north coast gas licences over the past decade, of which about $80 million has been capitalised.