We're CSG-free no more

THE news that Metgasco has been issued a licence to begin commercial production of coal seam gas in our region came as something of a shock on Tuesday, but at the same time it was no surprise.

What was shocking was the timing - just days after 87% of voters in Lismore gave an emphatic 'no' to CSG, the State Government gave the green light to the first commercial license in NSW just down the road from us at Casino.

But given the recent posturing of ministers Hartcher and Hazzard that gas would be an essential part of NSW's energy future, it really was no surprise.

So we have an Aquifer Interference policy, a new Land and Water Commissioner, new codes of practice and a bunch of other regulations that are designed to keep the industry on a tight leash and allay some community concerns.

The moratorium on the controversial practice of fracking has been lifted and farmers and green groups say the regulations fall a long way short of what was promised to protect agricultural land and high-value conservation areas.

But approving the use of gas for a power station at Casino is a smart political move by a government keen to take some baby steps first, rather than declaring open season to all CSG companies. As I have said here before, it is very hard to object to utilising a local resource to produce electricity for the region that would otherwise come from burning coal in the Hunter Valley.

But what happens next remains to be seen.

The Lock the Gate alliance and the CSG-free roads movement have flourished throughout the year and the slogan "non-violent but non-negotiable" seems to be a warning about how this battle is likely to progress. The company with the exploration rights for most of the Northern Rivers region, Arrow Energy (aka Shell/PetroChina) has been conspicuous by its absence since Barry O'Farrell came to office. I suspect they have been sitting back to see which way the wind was blowing in NSW.

Well, now we know. NSW is open for CSG business.

One of the interesting things that came out of SCU PhD student Hanabeth Luke's exit poll about why people voted the way they did on the CSG poll (see story page 7) was that a high percentage of people believed they could influence government decision making.

I hope they still think so.

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