On August 13 a Bill dealing with significant protection from coal seam gas (CSG) and other unconventional gas mining was put before the Legislative Council, the Upper House of the NSW Parliament. If this Bill, proposed by the Greens and amended by the ALP, passes the Upper House it will be considered in the Lower House.
There are three major aims of the Bill. The first is to impose an immediate moratorium on all unconventional gas exploration. The second is to create permanent no-go zones in the Northern Rivers, in key drinking water catchments and recharge areas of the Great Artesian Basin, in the Pilliga, in prime farmland and critical industry clusters. The third is to ensure that key recommendations made by the NSW Chief Scientist are implemented.
Locals who are concerned about the unconventional gas industry will be watching with interest to see what the Government does if the Bill passes the Upper House and goes to the Lower House for debate. They will also be very interested in the responses of our local MPs.
This is happening at a time when the NSW Government is negotiating the buy-back of Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) in NSW, buy-backs which have been motivated by voter backlash at the March state election where Ballina was won by the Greens and other Northern Rivers sitting members suffered reduced majorities.
While there have already been some buy-backs in other parts of the state, there have been none yet in the Northern Rivers. Clarence Valley activists are particularly concerned about PEL 426 which covers a large area of the Clarence Valley.
Interestingly this Metgasco licence expired in February 2014. Despite this, it seems that the Government is either unwilling or unable to revoke it. Community members regard it as decidedly strange that an expired licence (particularly one expiring over a year ago) cannot be automatically revoked removing the threat of gas-mining to our area.
It will be very interesting to see whether this and other Northern Rivers PELs are bought back by the Government or can be revoked if they have expired.