New Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane.
New Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane. Kevin Farmer

CSG exclusion only from "urban centres", not "hamlets"

RESTRICTIONS on coal seam gas production near residential areas may be weaker than first thought, with the NSW Government refusing to clarify whether they would be applied to Northern Rivers towns and villages yesterday.

Announced in February, the new regulations banning CSG production within 2km of residential areas forced Metgasco to suspend its exploration program two weeks after their announcement, according to CEO Peter Henderson.

But State Planning Minister Brad Hazzard has yet to finalise the draft regulations, although it is understood an announcement is imminent.

the bottom line is … it needs to be a buffer from major urban population centres not from hamlets, and the gas companies are saying the system in NSW right now is simply not practical or workable

- Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane

CSG regulations in NSW have also come under pressure from outspoken new Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, who since coming to office has gone from sympathising with opponents of the industry to calling for its urgent expansion - particularly in NSW - and referring to CSG activists as "anarchists".

The Minister has specifically cast doubt on whether the residential exclusion zones should apply to regional towns like Casino, telling Guardian Australia: "the bottom line is … it needs to be a buffer from major urban population centres not from hamlets, and the gas companies are saying the system in NSW right now is simply not practical or workable".

Metgasco's stock price has responded favourably to the Minister's announcements, jumping by 30% last weekend.

CEO Peter Henderson said he hoped Mr Macfarlane's encouragement of the NSW CSG industry would help "create a supportive investment environment" for the industry.

Mr Macfarlane's last-minute inclusion as a key speaker at NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher's "energy security summit" in Sydney today suggests he will play an important role in influencing the future direction of the NSW coal-seam gas policy.

That summit, an invitation-only affair featuring policy makers and industry heads, aims to tackle the threat of imminent gas shortages and higher prices widely predicted from 2015 when the state's long-term gas supply contracts expire.

The summit follows a poll conducted by The Australian which found more than half of 1100 people surveyed in NSW were against the extraction of coal-seam gas, with concern greatest among those over 50.


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