The NSW Government's Minister for Energy and Resources, Anthony Roberts, announced on March 10 that the government had bought back two Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) in the Clarence Valley.
The fact that Roberts travelled to Grafton to make the announcement alongside Chris Gulaptis, the local National Party Member for Clarence, is significant. It suggests that the Nationals and their Liberal Party coalition partners have concerns about the widespread opposition to gas mining in the Northern Rivers - and the impact this could have on the result in the March 28 State Election.
The announcement is another Government attempt to defuse the concern about gas mining in the region. It follows the Government's release of their Gas Plan late last year and an advertising campaign early this year in local media claiming the Plan addresses community concerns about gas mining.
The NSW Gas Plan was developed in response to the report (Final Report of the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW ) by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer following her inquiry into gas mining in the state. Neither the Plan nor the advertising campaign have been successful in allaying community concerns. Opponents to gas mining in the region have pointed out that the Plan has not addressed all of the recommendations made by the Chief Scientist and there is considerable uncertainty about when, if ever, these will all be addressed.
While Member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, claimed that the buyback shows the Gas Plan is working, opponents see it as a political stunt. Gasfield Free Northern Rivers Coordinator Elly Bird said, "This is a cynical and tokenistic attempt by the Liberal-National government to look like they are doing something on this issue when they could have acted decisively long ago by refusing to renew the Metgasco and Igas licences that were quietly renewed despite repeated calls from rhe community for their cancellation."