On Thursday May 15 gas-miner Metgasco's right to drill an exploration well at the Rosella site at Bentley was suspended by the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts.
Bentley, 12 km north-west of Casino in the Richmond River Local Government Area, has for months been the site of protest by community members opposed to gas-mining in the Northern Rivers of NSW. The Bentley protest has been a continuation of protests against Metgasco at earlier test drilling sites at Glenugie, near Grafton, and Doubtful Creek, near Kyogle.
Minister Roberts said that he suspended the approval on the grounds "that it did not fulfil a condition of its exploration licence, namely to undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community as required." ( Minister Roberts' Media Release )
Metgasco has apparently misled local landowners about the type of mining it expected to undertake at Bentley, denying that the gas was in a tight sands formation, which would have meant that fracking was required for its extraction. The local community has been well aware that the gas is locked in tight sands and is obviously very concerned about the effect fracking would have on the agricultural activities in the area.
It is interesting that the Minister also announced that he has written to the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) "following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests in Metgasco Limited".
The protesters at the protest camp on the property next to the drill site have been celebrating the suspension as have many other members of the Northern Rivers community - and indeed other opponents of the CSG and the unconventional gas industry throughout NSW and further afield. There is, however, general awareness that, while a celebration is justified, the battle against the invasive gas industry is far from over.
It is interesting to speculate on the suspension decision. There may have been other factors contributing to it. A possible confrontation between thousands of Bentley protesters and hundreds of police next week when Metgasco was to begin its preparation of the drill site may have worried the Government. Compounding this may have been some nervousness about the approach of the state election due in March next year - particularly in the light of the State Government's concerns about the recent relevations in ICAC.