Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell at the No Gas Rig Gig in 2013.
Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell at the No Gas Rig Gig in 2013. Contributed Jimmy Malecki

Mayor's "always optimistic" govt will buy back licences

UPDATE 9am: LISMORE mayor Jenny Dowell has reiterated calls for the State Government to buy back Metgasco's exploration licences, amid accusations the government has fast-tracked legislation which stops councils from blocking mining activity on their roads.

Lismore City Council is still investigating legal avenues to potentially challenge Metgasco's plan to conduct seismic testing in Rock Valley later next month.

Councillors will have a confidential briefing session about the issue during their next ordinary meeting on November 10.

"We will be looking at our options," Cr Dowell said.

Cr Dowell said Metgasco still hadn't notified the council exactly when it planned to commence seismic testing, and at least 21 days' notice was required.

Whether councils have been left out in the cold by the fast-tracked changes to the Petroleum (Onshore) Act, which were introduced and passed on October 15, remains to be seen.

Cr Dowell noted the Department of Resources and Energy were saying councils still had authority over activities on their local roads through the Roads Act, a separate piece of legislation.

"The fact they are saying that gives me some hope," she said.

"(But) other people are saying the (changes) reduce council's ability to say no."

Regardless, the mayor said there was still pressure was still on the State Government to initiate a buyback of Metgasco's three Northern Rivers mining licences.

"Inevitably (any mining) activity on our roads will stimulate a community response," she warned.

"We need the government to do what they said they were going to do and buy back these licences.

"I'm always optimistic."


UPDATE 8.10am: LISMORE mayor Jenny Dowell has said despite the changes to the Petroleum (Onshore) Act, Lismore City Council may still have the ability to refuse Metgasco access to Rock Valley Road.

"Council still awaits Metgasco's request for access to the road reserve on Rock Valley Rd for seismic testing," she wrote on her Facebook page this morning.

"Previously the company had advertised that testing would commence in late Nov or early December.

"While recent law changes limit the ability to refuse access under the Mining and Petroleum Acts, the ability of a Council to refuse access under the Roads Act may still be available.

"I would prefer not to have our staff spending time or money on investigating legal options.

"It would be much better if the state government bought back PEL 16 (and others) as they promised before we engage in any legal action and more importantly, before we see confrontations that could endanger people or tie up police resources."


Metgasco will no longer need permission to do seismic tests on public roads
Metgasco will no longer need permission to do seismic tests on public roads Cathy Adams

INITIAL REPORT: THE NSW Government has been accused of political skulduggery that would strip Lismore City Council's power to block Metgasco carrying out seismic testing on public roads.

But the Division of Resources and Energy maintains councils' authority over the sound-blasting tests along their roadways remains intact.

A raft of changes to the Petroleum (Onshore) Act have anti-CSG activists scrambling to learn the ramifications.

One thing is clear: Metgasco will no longer need the permission of residents along Rock Valley Rd to perform seismic testing.

The changes removed the need for mining companies to ask landholders with homes 200m from the site of the tests, or gardens and orchards 50m away, for their consent to run the tests.

They now only need to give 21 days notice.

"They still need the consent of whoever owns the public road. That could be councils or Roads and Maritime Services," a Division of Resources and Energy spokeswoman said.

"They still need the consent of whoever actually owns the land."

Cr Simon Clough read the legislation differently.

"That is a very strange interpretation. I'm perplexed by that," he said.

"My reading of it was that it specifically talks about excluding councils."

Cr Clough was not alone in his scepticism, with CSG activist Aidan Ricketts saying the wording was ambiguous and left the government open to different legal interpretations.

He believed it was rushed through parliament to avoid public scrutiny.

A search of Hansard reveals seismic testing was mentioned only once, briefly, during the debate: "The bill also streamlines processes for undertaking seismic exploration activity on public roads," Resources Minister Anthony Roberts said on Thursday, October 15.

Mr Ricketts said the law needed further explanation to put communities at ease.

"The trouble is they rush this stuff through, when it would normally go to committee," he said.

"That's where questions arise and it might end up being worded more correctly.

"I think the government decided, if they put it on the table for three months, it would completely unravel in the community and the Opposition would jump on it.

"So they've rammed it through at 100 miles an hour."


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