Metgasco licences -Government offers to buy out  for $25m

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesman Ian Gaillard shakes the hand of Lismore MP Thomas George. (Darren Coyne)

The NSW Government has struck a $25 million deal with junior mining company Metgasco that could see the northern rivers region finally free of of the threat of gas fields.

The Metgasco board has agreed to accept the money in exchange for its Petroleum Exploration Licences 16, 13 and 426.

The deal is subject to the approval of Metgasco shareholders, who will soon meet to vote on the offer.

Lismore MP Thomas George made the announcement this morning, describing it as a ‘great win for the community and certainly recognition of north coast nationals.

End-of-year decision

‘The agreement is between the board and the government however I make it clear that this has to be accepted by the Metgasco shareholders and that meeting will take place and be finalised one way or the other by the end of this year,’ Mr George told media.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell has described this morning’s announcement as ‘great news’ while Gasfield Free Northern Rivers coordinator Ellie Bird said it was ‘a win’ for the people and ‘an early Christmas present’.

Mr George would not comment on whether the $25 million price tag for the PELs was considered high or low.

‘I’m just pleased that both parties have come to an agreement,’ he said.

He said the deal, if agreed to by shareholders, would bring an end to any further legal action from Metgasco.

Mr George, who had earlier announced that he will retire at the next election, admitted that the CSG issue had been the most difficult of his political career, admitting that he and members of his family had received death threats.

With a little prompting from media, Mr George and anti-CSG campaigner Ian Gaillard shook hands to celebrate the milestone announcement.

‘I think its a very timely announcement. The community of the northern rivers have been on tenterhooks. There’s been a lot of anxiety about the intrusion of these speculative mining companies into the northern rivers without proper consultation,’ Mr Gaillard said.

‘It’s a great day. Probably about $22 million more than the company deserved but we’re happy and in the long run it’s a small price in the scheme of things to pay for a sustainable future, for water for future generations, and for the peace of mind for the people of the northern rivers that they won’t live in an industrialised gas field.’

Federal member for Page Kevin Hogan has welcomed the news.

‘The community spoke very loudly and they have been heard. I congratulate my state Nationals colleagues, Chris Gulaptis, Geoff Provest and Thomas George, for delivering on their promise to keep our region free from CSG mining,’ he said.

‘The previous Labor Government handed out these CSG licences, The Nationals have now delivered on a CSG-Free northern rivers.”

‘Since the election, the Coalition government has reduced the area of NSW under CSG licences from 60 per cent under the previous Labor government to less than 8 per cent.

‘I am sure shareholders will examine this proposal in good faith,’ Mr Hogan said.

Greens NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said it was fantastic and historic news which showed the strength of people power.

‘This is historic victory for people power, which through unity and determination has ejected this toxic industry from their community.  The Greens celebrate and are proud to have been a part of making the Northern Rivers gasfield free,’ Mr Buckingham said.

‘The Greens urge shareholders to accept the generous offer from the government as the only route out of a quagmire after Metgasco’s management failed to gain a social licence to drill for coal seam gas in the Northern Rivers.

‘Both the company and the NSW Government wanted gas extraction to occur in the Northern Rivers, and have been dragged kicking and screaming to this position.  This demonstrates the importance of a social licence, and the power of the people to stop operations that the community believes are highly detrimental.

‘If the government had been truly listening to the community, rather than trying to implement quick political fixes, it may have acted in a way to stop coal seam gas without having to pay out so much taxpayer money.  The Greens have moved numerous bills and amendments that would have banned coal seam gas, not only in the northern rivers, but state-wide.

‘$25 million is a large sum, and I join many in the community in questioning whether Metgasco’s failures should be compensated by taxpayers.  But in the end, $25 million is not a lot compared to protecting the land, water, communities and other industries of the Northern Rivers and to give people long-term certainty,’ he said.

Greens member for Ballina, Tamara Smith said many people voted Greens in Ballina and Lismore at the last election to send a message on coal seam gas.

‘Today’s events demonstrate that voting Greens is powerful.’

National Party media statement

National Party member for Lismore, Thomas  George, said the government has commended an agreement by the Metgasco board with the NSW Government for the purchase of Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) 16, 13 and 426, which is a major step towards making the northern rivers coal seam gas (CSG) free.

He said the Nationals’ parliamentary team ‘strongly encourages Metgasco’s shareholders to accept this opportunity’.

Parliamentary secretary for the north coast, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, said the NSW Nationals were ‘achieving for the north coast through the successful PEL buy back process, which had reduced Labor-issued PELs in the northern rivers from seven to Metgasco’s remaining three.’

‘I urge the PEL shareholders to accept this offer from the NSW Government, which recognises both the investment that Metgasco has made while also the community’s concerns about the industry’ Mr Gulaptis said.

‘Our track record is clear – we have not issued any new licences since 2011 and instead, cancelled, reduced and bought back existing licences,’ Mr Gulaptis added.

MR George said the government’s offer to the PEL owner followed the successful buyback and cancellation of PEL 445 covering 565,693 hectares around Kyogle, Lismore, Nimbin and Evans Head last month and of PEL 457, covering 75,000 hectares west of Yamba, in September.

‘The NSW Nationals parliamentary team is committed to rectifying the CSG mess left behind by Labor and protecting our precious resources,’ Mr George said.

‘To date, the NSW Government through buybacks has reduced the State’s CSG footprint to under eight per cent – a massive difference from the 60 per cent Labor left behind,’ he added.

The Hon Ben Franklin MLC said the northern rivers community should ‘feel confident the NSW Nationals are committed to getting results.’

‘Today’s news show the NSW Government’s commitment to investing in the local community,’ Mr Franklin said.

He added the NSW government had bought back 17 PELs across the State, covering more than five million hectares.

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