Metgasco confirms they will seek compensation
UPDATE 4.35pm: METGASCO CEO Peter Henderson has confirmed the company will seeking compensation over the government's now "unlawful" decision to suspend its licence.
In a new statement just released to the ASX, Mr Henderson described today's ruling as "a landmark decision for the resources industry in New South Wales" with broader implications.
"Had we lost, future investors in NSW would have had to consider the real threat of sovereign risk and NSW's image would have been tarnished."
Metgasco said Justice Richard Button's ruling held that the Office of Coal Seam Gas had "confused consultation with persuasion" in suspending the licence.
Some other comments by Justice Button included in Metgasco's statement were:
- the decision by the Minister to suspend "came as a bolt from the blue".
- the decisions "have undoubtedly damaged Metgasco substantially, as well as exposing it to criminal sanction".
- the Office of Coal Seam Gas' approach "smacks of a process of 'bootstrapping' that is conceptually unattractive".
"We will be seeking compensation for the damage that has been inflicted on Metgasco and its 5,000 shareholders by the NSW Government's unlawful decision," Mr Henderson said.
The government meanwhile is awaiting legal advice on its options following the Supreme Court ruling but has not yet confirmed whether an appeal will proceed.
Energy and Resources Minister Anthony Roberts has just released a statement saying the government was reviewing the judgement handed down in the Supreme Court today.
Mr Roberts reiterated that the Office of Coal Seam Gas believed Metgasco had failed its community consultation obligations when it suspended the licence in May.
"This Government will continue to place a high level of importance on community consultation for resources projects," he said.
UPDATE 2.40pm: THE gas industry has welcomed a court decision to overturn the illegal suspension of Metgasco's CSG drilling operations at Bentley.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association released a statement saying there were lessons to be learned for the NSW Government.
"Industry maintains that protest action should not be considered by government and regulators to be a proxy for 'ineffective' consultation and therefore grounds for suspension of previously approved operations," it stated.
"Companies who have the required approvals in place should be allowed to get on with the job of safely producing gas for NSW households and businesses.
"The suspension decision made last year only served to encourage the actions of protesters intent on stopping natural gas production.
"It had also raised serious concerns for any resource project in NSW and undermined certainty for shareholders and employees."
The Metgasco operations had full approval from relevant regulatory bodies before work started.
"The project was also supported by the Bentley farmer who owned the property where the work program was due to take place and who was also the subject of abuse, personal threats and vandalism to his property," the statement said.
UPDATE 2pm: METGASCO CEO Peter Henderson says the company could be back drilling at Bentley within three months.
Mr Henderson said the company was now keen to sit down with government and "talk about where we stand and a way forward."
"We have licences awarded and renewed by both sides of politics over more than 10 years, we've done the right thing by spending a lot of money drilling a lot of wells, and demonstrating there's a lot of gas there. We would like that situation respected," Mr Henderson said.
'We want to talk sensibly with government."
"We'd like to have a professional relationship with them - what's in the past is the past."
"Our exploration licences give us the right - and obligation - to carry out work programs."
Meanwhile, newly elected Greens MP for Ballina Tamara Smith has called on Metgasco to "pack up and leave" the region.
"If Metgasco try to drill again, the community will resist and I will be standing with them," Ms Smith declared.
Both Ms Smith and anti-gas group Gasfield Free Northern Rivers have released statements arguing today's court ruling was little more than a technical victory for the company.
They noted that Justice Richard Button's judgement related exclusively to procedural issues surrounding the suspension of the company's licence, where the government was found at fault.
Gasfield Free spokesman Aidan Ricketts has tweeted that "Govt botched the suspension of metgasco on procedural grounds but the real social and political issues still remain".
UPDATE 1.15pm: FEDERAL Member for Page Kevin Hogan says it would be "foolish" for Metgasco to consider returning to the region, adding the legal avenues over their licence suspension are far from exhausted.
Mr Hogan said he had been in touch with state colleagues who were already in talks with Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts about grounds for an appeal.
He said he was "extremely disappointed" by the news.
"We do not want CSG in the Northern Rivers and we need to do everything we can to make sure that is what happens.
"This isn't over, while they may be feel happy with the decision today, I don't think it's over legally and it's certainly not over as far as them coming back into our community to do what they want to do."
Mr Hogan added it would be "quite foolish" for Metgasco to consider returning to Bentley in the near future.
"I think this community has shown very strongly that they do not want coal-seam gas in this region," he said.
"While they have won this court case, there are still legal options for the state government to take, and the first one would be an appeal.
"I think the suspension should remain until that appeal is heard."
UPDATE 12.30pm: METGASCO's share price has risen sharply by more than 30% this morning following news of its win in the Supreme Court.
The company's stock has gone from 5.6c at the opening of the ASX this morning to 7.4c, or slightly more than a 32% rise.
There has also been a huge surge in the volume of the company's shares traded, with more than 10 million trades already today compared to a previous six-month high of two million.
If the upward trend in its share price continues, the company could be expected to eclipse its 52-week high of 9c by the close of trade this afternoon.
It still represents a far cry from the company's historic share price highs, which peaked at around 50c in 2012 prior to the Glenugie and Doubtful Creek blockades.
UPDATE: 11.37am: PROTESTERS will continue to fight Metgasco at Bentley even if the State Government passes legislation banning protests at drilling sites, Ian Gaillard says.
Mr Gaillard, of Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, said locals would not allow Metgasco to start drilling at Bentley and called on the State Government to revoke all gas licences.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers regional co-ordinator Dean Draper called on Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, whose seat covers Bentley as well as much of Metgasco's newly revived petroleum exloration licence area, to "come up to the table and tell us how he is going to stop gas mining on the Northern Rivers - like Thomas has before the election".
Mr Draper said Gasfield Free Northern Rivers' next step hinged on Metgascos next move.
"There may well be another court case where Metgasco now try and get compensation from the government, and that's just more taxpayer funded money thrown at an unpopular industry," he said.
UPDATE 11am: A LOCAL farmer who supports coal-seam gas says he is looking forward to Metgasco relaunching their Northern Rivers operation and returning to Bentley.
Peter Graham's family owns the property where Metgasco planned to drill its Rosella exploration well in May this year.
The drilling never went ahead after the huge Bentley Blockade forced the NSW Government to suspend Metgaco's licence, but today's Supreme Court ruling changed all that.
Mr Graham said drilling Rosella was "the quickest bang" for the company's dollar and the market was waiting for it.
He said "without a doubt" there would be protests, but "I would like to hope that government and police can do the job they need to do, and that is to keep our accesses open and clean."
"The law needs to be upheld."
Mr Graham added that today's Supreme Court decision to overturn Metgasco's licence suspension reassured him the company had done the right level of community consultation.
"They were doing everything that the government asked of them," Mr Graham said.
"You can only inform people if they're willing to listen."
He said the coal-seam gas debate had been "tainted" by Lock the Gate and other anti-gas groups and he believed the industry could work alongside farmers.
UPDATE 10.50am: METGASCO has said they are currently reviewing the Supreme Court's decision in detail before providing shareholders and the public with a detailed response.
This comes after the NSW Supreme Court found in its favour in Metgasco's challenge to the NSW Government's suspension of its Rosella drilling approval.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has also expressed his unhappiness with the decision.
"I am extremely disappointed with the decision of the NSW Supreme Court to quash the decision of the NSW Government to suspend Metgasco's drilling licence at Bentley," Mr Gulaptis said.
"I will be urging the Minister to seek every opportunity to appeal this decision because I believe it is wrong."
UPDATE 10.45am: PAGE MP Kevin Hogan is not happy with the NSW Supreme Court's decision to overturn the suspension of Metgasco's CSG exploration licence at Bentley.
"I am disappointed by the court's decision," Mr Hogan said.
"I have already spoken with my state colleagues to look for where there are grounds to appeal this decision."
INITIAL REPORT: THE NSW Supreme Court has overturned the State Government's suspension of Metgasco's CSG exploration licence in Bentley.
Justice Richard Button told the court the decision to suspend the licence was not made according to law.
He ordered the Minister for Resources and Energy to pay all of Metgasco's legal costs.
Speaking outside the court before the decision, Gasfield Free Northern Rivers protester Ian Gaillard said the lawsuit was a waste of public money.
"Either way, Metgasco are wasting a lot of money as a speculative miner coming into the Northern Rivers, by taking the government to court at a very early stage before the government had come to its own conclusions and while they still had time," he said.
"They've upped the ante, seriously.
"Whichever way it goes, the people of the Northern Rivers are not going to allow speculative mining companies to come in and wreak havoc on our land and water.
"We are determined to remain that way."