Gas company Metgasco has won its case against the state government to reinstate its drilling licence at Bentley after it was suspended last year.
However, Justice Richard Button said that while the suspension process undertaken by the government was not lawful, the judgement did not reflect the merits or otherwise of the suspension itself.
Metgasco’s licence was suspended in May last year after a large community campaign against its plans to drill for unconventional gas at Rosella, about 15 kilometres from Lismore.
Metgasco had wanted to test for gas in conventional and tight gas rocks. Residents opposed to the project organised a months-long protest camp at Bentley and blockaded the entrance to the site, preventing drilling equipment from entering.
NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts suspended Metgasco’s licence for failing to “undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community” just days before 900 NSW police had been ordered to break up the camp and escort a drill rig onto private property.
Roberts also asked the Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate whether the licence, first granted in 1996, was granted “entirely properly and without any undue interest or influence”.
Powerful industry body the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association backed Metgasco’s appeal, saying at the time that the government’s decision was a “significant concern” and had set a “damaging precedent”.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers regional coordinator Dean Draper said on April 24 that if Metgasco is successful in its demand for compensation “more public money is going to be thrown at a dangerous and unpopular industry”.
“This mess is a result of the NSW government’s failure to act decisively to create a watertight legislative means to cancel the Northern Rivers unconventional gas licence.
“There is now an urgent need for new legislation to enable the government to cancel mining titles on public interest grounds, without compensation, and to make the Northern Rivers permanently gasfield free, as the community wants.”