Invasive Gas mining in the Northern Rivers
There are currently three companies- Metgasco Limited, Dart Energy and Clarence Moreton Resources- with petroleum exploration licenses (PEL’s) in the Northern Rivers region (click on map at right to expand). There are also several Petroleum Exploration Licence Applications (PELA’s) and two Petroleum Special Prospecting Authority Applications (PSPA’s) currently before government. In September 2012 Metgasco Ltd was also granted government approval for a 30-45 well production gas field just outside the town of Casino. Up until early 2013 these companies were actively exploring for coal seam gas in the region, but at that time Metgasco and Dart suspended their operations indefinitely.
Since 2008 Metgasco has been actively exploring for unconventional gas (coal seam gas and tight sands gas) in the Northern Rivers. Metgasco has a 100% interest in PEL’s 16, 13 (Casino area) and 426 (Grafton area). In that time they have drilled around fifty exploration wells and constructed a number of large holding ponds for storing waste water from their drilling and pilot production program.
In 2012 Metgasco was found to be illegally dumping water from their drilling program into the Casino sewerage treatment plant and was also fined by the state government regulator for breaches of their exploration licenses. After a two year period in which they did little work in their license areas, they commenced a core-hole drilling program in late 2012. This program met with massive resistance from local communities in the Grafton and Kyogle areas and the company had to abandon plans for a third core-hole. In a surprise move, on 13th March 2013 Metgasco announced suspension of all their activities in the Clarence Moreton Basin. As part of this suspension they are currently decommissioning 19 of the remaining 21 active wells in their license area.
Metgasco also has several current exploration license applications as follows:
PELA 129 42 klm east of Drake.
PELA 130 51 klm south west of Lismore.
PPLA 9 22 klm west south west of Lismore
In early 2014, Metgasco announced its intention to drill an unconventional gas well on farmland at Bentley. This tight sands gas well was approximately 14 km from both Casino and Lismore, and was intended to drill some 2 km down, less than 1 km from Back Creek. This announcement initiated the beginnings of the now famous Bentley Blockade, where thousands of people across the region blocked the drilling site entrance to prevent well pad preparation and drilling activities. After nearly 4 months of blockading, the community was victorious in preventing Metgasco’s drilling going ahead, with the announcement of a suspension of Metgasco’s PEL 16 covering Bentley based on ‘inadequate community consultation’. Metgasco has since sued the NSW government, with the intention of recommencing drilling at Bentley if successful.
In early 2013 Dart Energy announced that it had aqcuired PEL 445, which covers an area of approx. 7,100 sq. km of the Northern Rivers region. This Clarence Moreton Basin license was formerly held by Arrow Energy, a 50/50 joint venture between Shell and Petro China. During their tenure Arrow drilled 15 wells across the region including: Woodenbong, Bonalbo, Kyogle, Keerrong, Bex Hill, and Coraki. The drilling of an exploration well in the Keerrong Valley by Arrow in early 2010 precipitated the birth of the anti-CSG movement in the region when a number of local residents became active raising awareness about the threats of coal seam gas.
In addition to its Australian operations, Dart Energy also has unconventional gas operations in the United Kingdom and China. On 2nd April 2013, prior to undertaking any exploration activities in the Northern Rivers, Dart Energy announced the suspension of their field operations in New South Wales for an indefinite period.
Dart have since sold their worldwide gas tenements to another multinational gas company, IGas. This is likely to result in the consolidation of Dart’s worldwide gas titles, and potential relinquishment of their Australian titles including shutting down and existing exploration wells. One well which was recently ‘rehabilitated’ in the Northern Rivers was a well at Tuckerimba which had been drilled some years ago by Arrow. Although IGas still holds a licence over a substantial part of the Northern Rivers, some or all of this licence area is likely to be relinquished in the future.
Clarence Moreton Resources (CMR) Group
The CMR Group holds licenses in the region between Casino and Grafton- PEL’s 457, 478 and 479. In a farm in arrangement with exploration company Red Sky Energy, drilling was undertaken at a number of sites. In in late April 2012 Red Sky Energy was granted government approval for the development of a pilot production well at the Talma site 2012. This pilot aims to investigate the gas resource within the low permeability Kangaroo Creek Sandstone gas resource (tight sands gas). Company documents state that once drilling is completed, a wellhead and flare will be installed and the well put into production for a number of months to test gas flow and certify gas reserves.
In 2012 CMR and Red Sky formed a new tripartite agreement with ERM Gas, a fully-owned subsidiary of ERM Power, a company with extensive gas interests in Western Australia. It was announced that ERM would become the operative (active) partner with responsibility for drilling any new wells in the CRM tenements. ERM is yet to announce a date for commencement of drilling.
Other companies that have applied for petroleum exploration permits are:
Clarence Moreton Resources P/L
PEL 457 23 klm west north west of Yamba
PEL 478 21 klm north west of Grafton
PEL 479 21 klm south west of Lismore
PSPAPP 46 25 klm south of Lismore
PSPAPP 47 51 klm south west of Lismore
PSPAPP 48 41 klm south west of Lismore
PSPAPP 49 42 klm east of Drake
Summerland Way Energy.
PELA 135 application relating to a 240 square kilometre area 34 km east south east of Drake.