CSG company slammed over a letter sent to north coast schools

Oil and gas company Metgasco have been slammed for a letter sent to north coast schools in NSW offering to send its staff members in to talk to students.

The letter, sent in July, also offered to donate a new documentary produced in the U.S about the energy industry.

Anti-CSG campaigners have slammed the letter and say student debates around energy issues should be handled in a classroom environment.

Aiden Ricketts, from CSG Free Northern Rivers, said the letter represents an unacceptable PR tactic by Metgasco, ABC reports.

"We've got no qualms with Metgasco putting their DVDs in the local library or having their advertising blitz in the newspapers, that's all good fair debate," he said.

"The Northern Rivers is a healthy community that's had a good debate about CSG, maybe Metgasco feels they didn't do too well in that debate.

"We're all up for having a free and open debate out in the community, but for an industry group, particularly a vested-interest, publicly-listed company to be going into our schools with their PR package I really don't think is acceptable.”

Rickett likened the move to a tobacco company going into schools.

“The idea of big tobacco or somebody going into our schools to sell their ideas certainly wouldn't turn me on,” he said.

Metgasco’s managing director, Peter Henderson defended the company’s decision to send the letter.

Henderson said the documentary was produced independently to facilitate discussion around world-wide energy needs.

He also said it was common for industry professionals to speak at schools.

Metgasco have come up against strong opposition to the development of CSG in the northern rivers region.

In December last year, the company received a bomb threat at its Casino office after a man called threatening to blow up the building.

Anti-CSG campaigners argue there is not enough scientific evidence the practice won’t harm water tables, the environment and the health of those living around wells.

In an initial independent report on NSW coal seam gas activities released last week, chief scientist and engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane confirms there are wide-ranging community concerns about CSG and suggests tougher regulation, increased penalties for breaches and more environmental research be conducted.

"CSG is a complex issue which has proven divisive chiefly because of the emotive nature of community concerns, the competing interests of the players, and a lack of publicly-available factual information," O'Kane said.  

She explained that the polarising CSG debate has been fuelled by unanswered community concerns “surrounding landholders' legal rights, land access and use; human health; the environment, particularly relating to impacts on water; engineering and operational processes; and industry regulation and compliance”.

"The challenges faced by government and industry are considerable and a commitment from all parties will be required to improve the existing situation and build trust with the community," she said.

Boudicca Cerese from the Northern Rivers Lock the Gate Alliance says CSG exploration needs to be stopped until all the possible effects of the operations are known.

“To me, a scientifically rigorous approach demands a comprehensive risk assessment be undertaken first to enable assessment of whether those risks can be adequately managed or not,” she said

“To me, the industry starting up and saying, ‘OK, we’ve got to do this research along the way, but we’re starting anyway’, is not following a precautionary approach and it’s not really good enough.”

Cerese said the community was committed in their fight against coal seam gas.

“That land use is not compatible here in the Northern Rivers.

“I think what the people of the Northern Rivers are saying is that they actually want the region to be made a no-go zone, because the values of this region are actually too great to risk.”

Metgasco has been exploring CSG in the Northern Rivers area since 2008.

Metgasco’s 2012/2013 program included three core CSG wells, three CSG lateral/pilot wells and a conventional well.

However the company’s website states only two of the three core wells have been drilled successfully with the other wells suspended due to “government and political concerns following early 2013 federal and state government announcements.”

Image: abc.net.au

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