MP Don Page says most people probably won't be pleased with the renewal of CSG exploration licences around the state.
MP Don Page says most people probably won't be pleased with the renewal of CSG exploration licences around the state. Cathy Adams

Govt gives Metgasco 'green light'

COAL seam gas company Metgasco says the state government has given it a "green light" to explore near Casino.

Coming just days after the people of Lismore overwhelmingly rejected the CSG industry in a referendum; the O'Farrell Government yesterday renewed 21 CSG exploration licences around the state.

The licence renewals were announced on the same day the government revealed its long awaited strategic regional land use policy, which aims to find the balance between resources, farming and environmental interests.

Metgasco chief executive Peter Henderson was yesterday celebrating the licence renewals and an official production lease approval for the Casino power station, while disappointed by the new restrictions.

He said the announcements sent a clear message that New South Wales was "open for business" but he believed the new restrictions were "unnecessarily restrictive".

Mr Henderson's remarks reflect the industry's concerns that the policy would cause project delays and costs blow-outs; while green groups and farmers hit out at the government for not doing enough to protect land and water assets.

But North Coast Minister Don Page said he expected most people would not be pleased with the policy, which he said tries to cut through the differing views, to provide what he called a balanced, "world's best policy".

Mr Page joined three North Coast National MPs, Chris Gulaptis, Geoff Provest and Thomas George, on a conference call to help sell the policy to north coast readers yesterday afternoon.

Mr Page said the policy would create 27 new measures to ensure farmland was protected and improve the balance between mining and agricultural interests.

Two chief parts of the policy were the creation of a Land and Water Commissioner to have oversight of all projects from the start of exploration, and the requirement for resource companies to prepare an agricultural impact statement for every exploration project.

While Mr Page said the commissioner would have to advise the community and government on the scientific aspects of CSG operations and how they could impact on aquifers, under the current proposal the state's Chief Scientist will not have an on-going role in such assessments.

He said crucially for the North Coast region, the Aquifer Interference Policy would ensure groundwater resources were protected.

This point, he said, was especially relevant because maps to be drawn up detailing the region's most important agricultural land - which would be provide further protections for such areas - had not been completed yet.

While some maps were already complete, the maps for both the far and mid-north coast regions were only listed in policy documents to be reviewed and updated over the next two years.

But Mr Page said the maps were likely to be drawn up quicker than the two year timeframe, with early draft maps to go out for public consultation "early next year".

As part of the 21 petroleum exploration licence (PEL) renewals signed off on Tuesday across the state, Metgasco's PEL 13 and 16 near Casino were approved.

The policy will be legislated through amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy and changes to the water act.