Australia: Metgasco's Bentley gas drilling suspended, referred to ICAC

21/05/2014 15:36

Resources company Metgasco's plans to drill for gas at Bentley on the NSW north coast are in disarray after state energy minister Anthony Roberts referred the project to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and announced its licence would be suspended due to insufficient community consultation.

Mr Roberts announced the decision on Thursday morning, just days before police were due to be called in to break up a long-standing protest on the site at Bentley, near Lismore.

Up to 800 police were due to enter the protest camp as early as Monday to disperse thousands of people who have been blockading the site for several weeks.

Protesters have been blocking the Bentley site for weeks.

Protesters have been blocking the Bentley site for weeks. Photo: Dean Sewell

Mr Roberts said the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) had told Metgasco the licence would be suspended because the company "did not fulfil a condition of its exploration licence, namely to undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community as required."

“OCSG is conducting an ongoing audit of all Petroleum Exploration Licences across NSW and is focused on ensuring company compliance with title conditions,” Mr Roberts said.

“I have been advised by OCSG that fundamental concerns have been expressed by members of the affected community about the way in which Metgasco has characterised its activities."

Protesters have been blocking the site for weeks.

Protesters have been blocking the site for weeks. Photo: Dean Sewell

He said  he has written to the ICAC Commissioner "following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests in Metgasco Limited."

“In accordance with Section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, I have referred this to the Commissioner to ensure that any decisions pertaining to PEL 16 have been made entirely properly and without any undue interest or influence.”

Metgasco has drilled about 50 exploration wells, mostly in coal seam gas deposits about 800 metres below the surface. The suspension, however, applies to a so-called unconventional gas well to tap reserves trapped in sandstone about 2.3 kms below the surface.

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