The campaign against Coal Seam Gas has won a significant victory at Bentley, near Lismore on the NSW Northern Rivers.
On 14 May, the state Liberal government announced suspension of the exploration licence of Metgasco, who were set to commence drilling on farmland at Bentley.
Resources Minister Anthony Roberts cited Metgasco’s failure to fulfill obligations for community consultation. But in reality, a four-month long blockade of the drill-site had become too strong to break, without overwhelming police force and the risk of a major political backlash.
An estimated 1000 police had been mobilised to crush the blockade in the week leading up to the decision, in what the Northern Star newspaper said, “would have been one of the most significant operations in NSW police history”.
Thousands of protesters had flocked to the blockade and organisers estimate 10,000 people would have been present to defy the police assault.
National Lock the Gate campaigner Annie Kia, who played an important role in building the community campaign, told Solidarity:
“This blockade sat on top of absolutely methodical community engagement, it was just the tip of the campaign iceberg. There had been a three and a half year campaign. A regional alliance was formed of 20 action groups across the Northern Rivers to meet the threat of unconventional gas drilling”.
“Surveys were done door to door in each of the communities and towns. Eighty five per cent of people in the Bentley region who were surveyed said they didn’t want to live in a gas field. Lismore and Casino were leafleted four times. Every household was given a campaign DVD.”
The broad base of support meant that, when Metgasco attempted to move in, “there was an outbreak of non-compliance in the population”.
Police wanted to use the shed of the Rural Fire Brigade for their operation head quarters, but the local firies refused, as did the regional brigade. The State boss had to authorise the use of the shed, leading to resignations from the local force and firefighters joining the blockade in their uniforms.
Local contractors had refused the security fencing contracts for Metgasco. Catering companies cancelled contracts for the police. Lismore show ground was refusing access to police to do the briefing for their operations.
The temporary suspension of Metgasco’s license is a welcome reprieve for Bentley. But the campaign is now pushing on to demand permanent cancelation of all exploration licenses across the region.
By Paddy Gibson