AGL sells coal seam gas licence as NSW Government goes on an election eve frenzy of cancellations

AGL Energy Limited has sold back a licence to explore for coal seam gas (CSG) on the New South Wales central coast to the state government, deeming it not commercially viable.

The move comes as the Baird government launched a major offensive to neutralise CSG as an election issue ahead of the March 28 ballot.

Labor is campaigning hard on the NSW north coast on the issue, hoping to unseat the local National Party MPs, despite the fact that the former ALP government issued the licences in 2009 and approved dozens more exploration licences in its dying days before the 2011 election. ALP leader Luke Foley promised a ban CSG in area, where heated protests have occurred in recent years, especially around Bentley, just west of Lismore.

The Coalition put an 18-month freeze on the granting of CSG exploration licences 12 months ago and the state’s chief scientist, Mary O’Kane, handed down her report into the industry in September last year, following an 18-month investigation.

Resources and energy minister Anthony Roberts announced a series buybacks and petroleum exploration licence (PEL) cancellations across the state today.

Two are in the Northern Rivers, following buybacks from joint holders Clarence Moreton Resources and ERM Gas. PEL 478 covered 890 square kms in the Clarence Valley, north of Grafton. PEL 479 covered 75 square kms near Tatham.

On Friday Roberts and Premier Mike Baird killed off exploration in metropolitan Sydney following a buy-back from resources company Dart Energy.

The 1,890 square km exploration area stretched from Bundeena, to Sydney Harbour, Rooty Hill, Palm Beach and Gosford and was granted by the former ALP government in 2008.

“We’ve reduced the total area of NSW covered by PELs or PEL applications from almost 50 per cent under Labor to just 15 per cent,” Roberts said.

AGL spokesperson Scott Thomas said the company decided to offload its licence, which covered an area of 398 square kms from Wyong to Morisset, because lakes and existing mining leases left only 10% of the area open to exploration. The licence was originally granted by a former Liberal government more than 20 years ago.

“AGL has a fully operational gas plant in Camden, and approvals for exploration and production of coal seam gas in Gloucester. We will concentrate on delivering value from these assets for our shareholders and for residents of NSW,” he said.

The latest announcement follows the buy-back and cancellation of PEL 463, which covered an area of the Central Coast from Woy Woy to Terrigal, Point Clare and Gosford.

It’s believed the government is paying hundreds of thousands for the licences, which were originally issued for $1000. The Coalition plans to increase the price of PELs to $50,000.

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