UPDATE Wednesday: METGASCO has corrected a mistake made in their release yesterday which read that the company was seeking "conclusion of contractual agreements for a seismic acquisition program to the east of Lismore and for the drilling of the Rosella conventional/tight gas prospect".
Today the company released a statement that read: "Metgasco Limited wishes to clarify that the seismic acquisition program advised yesterday will be to the west of Lismore."
UPDATE 1.45pm: THE NSW Government says it "remains ready to continue negotiations in good faith with Metgasco" but has failed to answer specific questions about the company's issues with it.
Metgasco announced today it was taking the government to court to seek damages for the suspension of its Bentley operation as well as the resumption of widespread operations across the on the Northern Rivers, with the expectation police would provide security for those operations.
The Northern Star contacted the office of Energy Minister Anthony Roberts with a series of questions about the Metgasco announcement.
Specifically, we asked:
- Given Metgasco's statement today, what does the Minister think should happen next?
- Why have negotiations between Metgasco and the NSW government broken down?
- Is the government prepared to provide police support for Metgasco operations?
- Is there anything preventing Metgasco from commencing exploration drilling at the Bentley (Rosella) mine?
- With Metgasco's intentions to commence drilling made clear, will the government make more effort to buyback the exploration and mining licences?
Mr Roberts' office responded with the following statement, attributable to the Minister:
'The Government notes today's announcement by Metgasco.
"The company stated it is 'happy to resume good-faith discussions with the Government'.
"The Government also remains ready to continue negotiations in good faith with Metgasco."
UPDATE 1pm: THE NSW Government had offered gas miner Metgasco a "substantial" compensation payment before the company today announced it would take legal action, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has revealed.
Responding to comments from the company in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange this morning, Mr Gulaptis said he was "extremely disappointed that negotiations between Metgasco and the NSW Government have fallen away".
"I have not been privy to the negotiation process but I understand the NSW Government made a substantial offer based on an independent valuation," he said.
Mr Gulaptis said he had spoken to Nationals leader Troy Grant and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts' office about the issue and urged Metgasco to reconsider the government's offer "in the cool light of day".
"I believe there is still an opportunity for a mutual agreement to be reached and I don't want to comment further and compromise any further negotiations," he said.
UPDATE 12.20pm: METGASCO would face strong community opposition if it dared to resume operations on the Northern Rivers, Greens MPs have warned.
In a statement, NSW Greens mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham accused the company of "belligerence" for saying it still wanted to drill on the Northern Rivers.
Mr Buckingham said Metgasco had failed to gain a social licence on the Northern Rivers and it was "not up to taxpayers to bail out this company".
"It's outrageous and belligerent that this company would sue taxpayers for compensation and threaten to resume drilling when their social licence to operate in the Northern Rivers has so comprehensively been rejected," Mr Buckingham said.
"If Metgasco go back to Bentley, then the community will be there to meet them in large numbers and with determination to protect the land and water."
Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith, who was elected partly on community disquiet over the coal seam gas issue, said she would take part in any new protest action at Bentley.
INITIAL REPORT: GAS company Metgasco is launching new legal action against the NSW Government, demanding compensation for damages caused by its suspension at Bentley and resumption of its Northern Rivers operations.
In a statement issued to the Australian Stock Exchange this morning, Metgasco boss Peter Henderson says the company also expects the State Government to provide "police protection" during its Northern Rivers operations.
Metgasco says its negotiations with the State Government for compensation over Bentley "have not resulted in a settlement of the matters between Metgasco and the Government".
The company has been in negotiations for months, since the Supreme Court ruled Energy Minister Anthony Roberts' suspended Metgasco's petroleum exploration license for the area.
Metgasco says it has now "paused formal discussions" with the government while it launches legal action over its access to three parts of the Northern Rivers.
Apart from seeking damages over the Bentley suspension, Metgasco says it wants a judicial review with the aim of renewing petroleum exploration licence 426, which covers Grafton and much of the Clarence Valley.
The company also wants a production licence for petroleum production licence area nine, which covers an area immediately southeast of Casino.
Finally, it says it is seeking "conclusion of contractual agreements for a seismic acquisition program to the east of Lismore and for the drilling of the Rosella conventional/tight gas prospect".
Metgasco fails to spell out what the "seismic acquisition program" would be.
"Details of the seismic and drilling programs will be issued over the next few months as contract details,
including drilling rig choice and availability, are concluded," Mr Henderson is quoted saying in the statement.
"We expect the Government will provide all necessary police protection to allow the lawful activities to be undertaken safely and securely and we were given assurances in this respect as part of our discussions with Government.
"Metgasco would have preferred to settle its claim for 2014 suspension damages with the New South Wales Government out of court and is happy to resume good-faith discussions with Government in this respect, but not at the expense of having to indefinitely suspend its business activities."