The NSW government has banned Metgasco from continuing a drilling program near Lismore until the company can prove it has undertaken "genuine and effective consultation" with the community.
NSW Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts said he decided to suspend Metgasco’s licence, which was issued by the former Carr Government in 1996, after concerns were raised by the director of Coal Seam Gas and the NSW Land and Water Commissioner.
"I have been advised by OCSG that fundamental concerns have been expressed by members of the effected community about the way in which Metgasco has characterised its activities," Roberts said.
Roberts has also referred some aspects of Metgasco’s licence to the ICAC “following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests” in the company.
The decision to suspend Metgasco’s drilling licence comes just days before the official start of the program was set to take place at a Bentley farm.
The project has attracted fierce local opposition, with thousands converging on the site in protest of the gas drilling proposal.
Named Bentley Blockade, a protest camp has been erected near the would-be drill site for almost three months.
Roberts described Peter Graham, the farmer who had allowed Metgasco to drill on his farm as “a very brave man, a strong man, a principled man”.
“Mr Graham understands there are processes and they must be transparent. There has been great damage done to his property. Together with Mr Graham I would suggest quite strongly to those protesters that have been up there when they remove themselves from their site they can also remove the rubbish of the site.”
“I would hope that those people leave that protest site in the same condition in which they found it.”
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said locals were thrilled with Roberts’ decision.
"This is fantastic news," she said.
"I can't tell you how excited and thrilled the people up here are and will be."
Dowell said 87 per cent of locals were opposed to gas drilling.
Northern Rivers Guardians president Scott Sledge has said protesters at the "Camp Liberty" campsite "erupted in celebration" when the news suspension news came through.
"Community relief is reflected all over the Northern Rivers as opposition was widespread and thousands of residents had their bags packed to join the protectors at Bentley, putting their lives on hold for a cause of massive and overwhelming importance to the future for themselves and generations to come," Sledge said in a written statement.
"There will be shouting, dancing and singing around the region to celebrate this historic victory for people power."
Drew Hutton, president of Lock the Gate Alliance, said while he was pleased with the decision to suspend the licence, he wanted to see it cancelled.
"This opposition is not just going to just whither away with a suspension. We're going to demand a cancellation, and so will Lock the Gate."
While NSW Greens mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham described Roberts' decision as "a fantastic win for the people of the Northern Rivers that have united in great spirit and determination to protect their land, water and community".
"The Bentley blockade is a physical manifestation of the social licence and shows that a social licence is not only real, but necessary for an industry like coal seam gas to operate," Buckingham said.
"Metgasco have patently failed to win the support of the community and are finished. They should pack up and leave."
Australian Mining approached Metgasco for comment.
The company was unavailable at the time of publication.
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