Metgasco puts well capping on hold under new protocol

METGASCO drilling manager Simon Hann has indicated the company may not fully abandon two potentially profitable Dobies Bight wells, despite announcing it was fully decommissioning its remaining 19 wells last week.

Instead of being filled with concrete, the Harrier 01 and Corella P1 wells would be fitted with two mechanical plugs to allow the well to be returned to production.

The plan remains speculative at present, with no application made to the NSW Resources Department. "It has not been agreed or approved, and no plans or submissions have been made," Mr Hann said.

The NSW Department of Planning last week released a new protocol allowing resource companies the right to challenge the status of prime agricultural land.

The interim protocol for the "verification and mapping" of so-called BSAL - biophysical and strategic agricultural land - contains a set of 10 criteria to determine whether a property meets BSAL status.

Under the protocol, the onus is on landowners to prove their land meets BSAL status

Any land then deemed BSAL requires the company seeking a production licence to go through the NSW Planning Department's "gateway" process.

But under the new protocol, companies can challenge the status by seeking a "site verification" that the land meets strategic agricultural land criteria.

Shadow minister for planning and the environment Luke Foley said the protocol "significantly weakens" the existing regulations for CSG development.

He dubbed it a "Swiss cheese effect" in which pockets of land in a prime agricultural region would be opened up to coal-seam gas without the company going through the gateway process.

But the NSW Farmers Association is understood to have grave concerns over the strength of the gateway process itself, with NSW Farmers Association president Fiona Simson saying most mining projects would eventually make it through the process anyway.