A local St Peters community meeting organised by residents concerned about coal seam gas exploration in their area ended without Dart Energy Chief Executive Robbert de Weijer. He left 40 minutes before the end of question time.
De Weijer apologised to community members, citing a "public holiday" and "family commitments" before leaving to catch a flight to Queensland.
The audience wasn’t impressed. "The community is saying, well your boss has just flown out of here. Well we can’t fly out of here. These are our homes. These are our schools. There’s no way, no damn way you’re going to start drilling [in]our communities without an inquiry," said one audience member to loud applause from the floor.
A spokesperson for Sydney Residents Against Coal Seam Gas, Jacinta Green, called for a moratorium on CSG, a Royal Commission into the industry and a ban on fracking.
Organised by local activist group Sydney Residents Against Coal Seam Mining with Dart Energy, last night’s meeting was held at St Peters Town Hall. The 300-seat hall was packed with local residents.
The Q and A session was called to allow the St Peters and broader inner city community a chance to directly address concerns about the company’s exploration licence and the impact of a coal seam gas exploratory drill site planned to go ahead on the current "Dial-A-Dump" site in St Peters.
Fronting the meeting with the company’s CEO were Dart Energy NSW exploration manager Jason Needham and principal geologist and exploration manager Malcolm Bocking.
The early exit, however, was just one factor that contributed to a rowdy night, with many local residents decrying what they saw as a lack of transparency and information from the company which holds a CSG licence over the entire Sydney basin.
The crowd erupted in boos when a timeline of correspondence between Dart and community members was presented.
"Why do we have to dig the information out little bit by little bit? If information is relative why isn’t it on your website?", asked one St Peters resident.
Jason Needham admitted that Dart Energy had failed to some degree to inform the public, conceding the company website was "pretty poor in providing the community with information".
He also said the company would welcome one of the proposals from the floor — that the company be subject to a formal inquiry — however he rejected the need for a moratorium on further coal seam gas exploration.
"I agree [that]an inquiry is quite appropriate. We don’t think that a moratorium is appropriate," said Needham.
"The inquiry will reveal what the industry is, not what it isn’t. We are quite proud and confident that the inquiry will set the CSG industry in a good light," he said.
The company stressed that, from its perspective, the current debate was focused on production of coal seam gas, when at this stage their plans only concerned exploratory drilling.
"Part of the misunderstanding is that the two issues have been very confused in the public debate. That being exploration and that being a debate about production," said Malcolm Bocking
"To decide what you need in a production field, you first need the facts. The purpose of exploration is to collect the facts. Exploration is a very low-impact activity, but you are concerned particularly about exploration."
"There’s no point doing an exploration unless you plan to move to production," responded one man in the audience.
"That’s a complicated one," replied Bocking to laughter from floor, "but basically unless the benefits of the process can be explained, because you know the facts, you can’t argue for the production project."
Chief executive de Weijer hastened to assure residents that plans to drill in the St Peters area were still at the preliminary stage. He said, "We are still doing a number of technical evaluations, certainly not drilling at St Peters this year or in 2012, and personally I doubt we will be drilling at St Peters in 2013." The company had earlier planned to drill in St Peters this year.
"It’s very hard to make an assessment as to drilling from 2014 onwards."
Greens Member of the NSW Legislative Council Jeremy Buckingham told New Matilda that "the level of anger is going up".
"I think that Dart Energy didn’t commit to anything at this stage and I don’t think the community are convinced," he said.
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