Finance Finance News Activists say coal seam gas a test of democracy on the north coast

Activists say coal seam gas a test of democracy on the north coast

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“This has now become a test of democracy, we have an overwhelming majority across the Northern Rivers opposed to gas-field development, including the Federal MPs for Richmond and Page who come from different sides of politics. It’s time for state and federal governments to listen to the community rather than to the industry lobbyists and stop this unwanted industrial invasion,” Mr Gaillard said.

The Federal Industry minister hosted a large meeting of stakeholders in Canberra yesterday which included Lock the Gate, gas mining companies, landholders and local politicians.

Ian Gaillard from Lock the Gate said the group is happy to be taken seriously and included in the conversation.

“It’s encouraging that community groups are being invited to these things but overwhelmingly the tone of it of the meeting was let’s go ahead and what are we waiting for and we were able to say no look we’re not going to let you go ahead and in fact Metgasco should form an exit strategy,” he said.

Mr Gaillard said that comment resulted in a few frustrated faces around the table.

He said the minister arrived about an hour late to the meeting but everyone at the table was able to have a say.

According to the group, Metgasco has already had two meetings with the minister and Lock the Gate said it would like more opportunity to have a say.

The minister was presented with information to support community concerns and opposition to coal seam gas.

“I don’t think it’s fully recognised yet, the importance of this poll from Southern Cross University,” Mr Gaillard said.

“I feel (the findings) would like to be ignored but it can’t be,” Mr Gaillard said.

As for a resolution, Lock the Gate wasn’t given any promises.

“There were no undertakings given there was merely the chance for us to state our position in the meeting,” he said.

The Federal Industry minister Ian McFarlane said it was not an easy meeting but was constructive.

The economic future of Casino and surrounds was a key talking point.

“The council was concerned and interested in making sure that Casino and the area around it took the opportunities that were there, but took them in the context of making sure that we were doing it in a way that the environment and the water and the productivity of the land was preserved.

There is a socio-economic challenge to be met in the Casino area and high youth unemployment. Gas provides an opportunity, the dairy factory told us that one and a half million dollars a year would be saved if they could get local gas rather than bringing LPG up from Sydney which is coming from the Middle East.”

There were opportunities for other industries and more reliable electricity at a lower cost – those were the positives,” Mr McFarlane said.

The Queensland experience was drawn on heavily during the conversation.

“Remember in QLD we’ve got 4000 farmers signed up to co-existence agreements, we’ve got farmers earning up to six million dollars over 20 years, no risk, no capital, no labour all reward for a co-existence plan with a gas company which not only underpins their economic wellbeing in a year like this which is experiencing a drought but also allows them to plan where the wells go … and actually participate in the management of the extraction of that gas on their property,” Mr McFarlane said.

There was also the controversial topic of NSW’s gas supplies and the debated ‘gas shortage crisis’.

“Of course in NSW the crisis that is coming in 2016 in terms of supply and the economic opportunities for local people, that’s the outcome (we want to avoid),” Mr McFarlane said.

“The majority of the gas in NSW comes out of the Moomba basin and belongs to South Australia.

I can produce you 30 economic studies that say there is a gas shortage but in the end the people I believe are the Australian Energy Market Operator and they are the ones charged by the state’s and by the Federal government to tell us what the energy supply situation is.

Their prediction is that there will be a shortage in the market, that gas prices will double to a point where the economy of using gas in Newcastle and Sydney and Wollongong will mean that the businesses will close down now that’s reality,” the minister said.

There was also the undertaking that gas supplies were committed to the NSW market.

“The gas companies are committing to supply the domestic market and the gas companies said that yesterday,” the minister confirmed.

But as for the price, the minister said the market would dictate.

“I allow normal commercial forces to operate and I wouldn’t expect a dairy farmer in Casino to sell his milk to a factory or her milk to a factory at less than the international price just as I wouldn’t expect a wheat farmer to sell their wheat to a flour mill at less than the international price.

Prices will rise, generally in Australia the expectation is that prices will settle somewhere between $6 and $9 a gigajoule.

In NSW the expectation is that the price will be in excess of $12 a gigajoule and that is simply because there is not enough gas in the market,” Mr McFarlane said.

“What we need to do is make sure there is more than ample gas in New South Welsh people pay no more for gas than people in Queensland or in Adelaide or in Melbourne and in terms of the price that it reflects an international price, everyone understands that.

But the NSW price will not reflect an international price, it will reflect a local domestic short and on that basis there will be a four to five dollar premium on gas in NSW that we want to get rid of, because we want to keep industries in NSW competitive, we want to keep jobs in Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong,” Mr McFarlane said.

On the topic of environmental health and water issues, the minister said safeguarding that was neither his job, nor the gas companies.

“That’s not Metgasco’s job.

“Metgasco’s job is to abide by the conditions laid down by the NSW government and in particular by the chief government scientist in NSW.

“When she sets the conditions around them, exploring for gas in the Casino area (…) it is up to the chief government scientist to convince the community that what she is requiring and the conditions she is laying down will prevent contamination or reduction in water supply in the Richmond Shire and in that whole Northern Rivers area.

“It’s her job to make sure that this development goes ahead as every resource development goes ahead in Australia on the basis that it doesn’t impact on the environment long term, it doesn’t impact on water supplies long term that it doesn’t reduce long term productivity of the land and the experience in Queensland is in fact that the coal seam gas industry is increasing the productivity of farms, and it does so on a basis where the gas companies are only on farms where the farmers want them.

I’m confident that when the chief government scientist in NSW is convinced then I’ll be convinced and that’s the reality, it’s her job not mine,” the minister said.