Petroleum company Metgasco has had its licence to drill for gas at Bentley in northern NSW suspended and Resources Minister Anthony Roberts has referred the project to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
ICAC has previously investigated links between resource companies and prominent NSW political figures, including disgraced former Labor MP Eddie Obeid.
Citing allegations over Metgasco’s shareholdings and interests, Mr Roberts today said: “I referred this to the commissioner to ensure that any decisions made pertaining to Pell 16 have been made entirely properly, without any undue influence or interest. As this is a matter for the ICAC, I will not be making any further comment or statement on this.”
The suspension of drilling at the Rosella site was ordered because of concerns the company had not undertaken genuine and effective consultation with the community, Mr Roberts said.
The company, which has placed a 48-hour trading halt in its shares on the ASX, issued a statement saying it had complied with its licence conditions.
Hundreds of anti-gas industry protesters have been camped at the site for weeks in a bid to stop work on the well.
Bentley landowner Rosemary Joseph had travelled to Sydney and was expecting to discuss the issue with the minister.
She said the suspension of Metgasco’s licence had left her delegation, and the wider community of Bentley, near Lismore, feeling vindicated.
“It vindicates what thousands of people in the Northern Rivers were feeling all along,” Ms Joseph said.“That this was just not the right thing for our area and there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered. Thousands and thousands of people can’t all be wrong.”
Metgasco issued a statement saying the suspension came at a critical time for the company, as it prepared to send a drilling rig to its Rosella well.
The company said it was confident it could demonstrate that it was in compliance with its licence conditions. “The company is in the process of mobilising a drilling rig to drill the Rosella well, and therefore this advice from the NSW government comes at a very critical time,” the statement said.
“Accordingly, the company has sought and obtained a 48-hour ASX trading halt pending the opportunity to meet and discuss the matter with government so that there is a clearer understanding of the outlook for rig mobilisation.”
Metgasco said it would advise the market as soon as its position became clear.
Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell said while she was pleased a battle had been won, she feared the war might not be over. “It is a suspension, I’m not fully celebrating at this stage,” she said.
“I know there will be a good process and I really congratulate the minister for the process, but I think this is only one thing. We’ve got other mining companies in this area with licences, there’s the potential for thousands of wells, this is only the first.”
The Nationals MP and former minister for the north coast, Don Page, said the gas industry now faced an uncertain future in the region.
“It’s quite obvious that we don’t want CSG drilling on the north coast,” he said.
“So look I think let’s wait and see how it plays out, but I think for the moment anyway we’ve got a sensible outcome and the risk of people being injured and the police being involved in what would have been a very ugly situation moving forward has been averted.”