NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell implemented a six-month freeze on processing new applications for coal seam gas (CSG) exploration licences on March 26. At the same time, the minister for resources and energy, Anthony Roberts, announced that the licence application fee would increase from $1000, set by the ALP state government in 2002, to $50,000.
Roberts had earlier refused five CSG exploration licence applications sought by Grainger Energy which, covered 43,000 square kilometres of land in the Riverina.
The minister declared that Grainger Energy had “submitted a manifestly deficient application”. This is hardly surprising given the company was formed just six days before the application was lodged, had one owner-director and had never been known to have engaged in exploration activities, or anything else for that matter.
Another CSG exploration company, Leichhardt Resources, asked by the minister to show why three licences it holds near Moree and Nowra and between Bylong and Denham should not be cancelled. The minister said the message the government wanted to convey was that “speculators and cowboys need not apply”.
The question as to who can apply seemed to answer itself on March 28. This was when the well-established companies, Santos and AGL, signed an agreement with the NSW Farmers Association, the NSW Irrigators Council and Cotton Australia to respect the rights of private agricultural landholders who do not want CSG drilling operations for exploration and production on their land.
But sandwiched between these two announcements was a parliamentary sitting on March 27 that had before it a bill would have put into effect the election promise by O’Farrell to ban CSG operations in water catchment areas. The Liberal National government used its numbers to ensure that the bill wasn’t even put to a vote. The bill lapsed.
There is a huge distance between the majority wishes of NSW citizens and the NSW government. Those opposing CSG operations have made it clear that there should be a freeze on CSG exploration and mining, a royal commission into the impacts of CSG developments, a ban on fracking, and a ban on CSG development in drinking water catchment areas.
As the demonstrations in Bentley showed just days after the government failed to act, there is a determination that these eminently reasonable demands can, and will be, met.