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Councils target gas-search ban as prices surge

Councils target gas-search ban as prices surge

Regional councils in Victoria have called on the state government to lift its moratorium on conventional gas exploration, amid growing concerns over skyrocketing power prices.

Councils in the southwest of the state say the moratorium has locked up local onshore conventional gas resources that could be used to help lower power ­prices.

Moyne Shire Council, on the state’s southwest coast, has joined neighbouring Corangamite Shire as the most recent local government area to formally oppose the government’s moratorium.

The Andrews government passed legislation earlier this year to prevent all coal-seam gasmining, as well as extend a moratorium on onshore conventional gas exploration and development until 2020.

The move has been criticised by Malcolm Turnbull, who has accused­ the Victorian Labor governmen­t of “locking up” gas supplies on an ideological basis.

Councils petitioning for change at a local level hope their actions set a precedent and encourage­ other local government areas to speak out.

Moyne Shire councillor and farmer Ian Smith raised a special notice of motion this month recom­mending that his council formally oppose the moratorium.

“I just think (we should do) anything we can do to help keep the price of energy down; I can’t say we will reduce the cost, but ­trying to do away with the reliance on expensive offshore gas, I’m all for that,” said Mr Smith, who ­believes that a proportion of state royalties from extraction should go to landholders.

“I’m just wanting to get the ­Liberals and the Andrews ­government and Coalition to ­rethink their positions; that’s all I’m asking­ for.”

In the nearby shire of Corangamite, home to a significant offshore gas industry, Jo Beard has been mayor since November 2015.

The local council’s position for many years has been in favour of onshore gas from conventional reserve­s, arguing that it could be an important alternative energy source and create additional economic activity. “This is a feeling we have had all along,” said Ms Beard.

“The fact we will potentially have the ability to access these resourc­es at our back door is significant, not only to this region but to Australia as a whole.”

She said Sunday’s independent report into Victoria’s electricity prices, which showed the state had unusually high prices compared with the rest of Australia, reflected poorly on a region that was abundant in natural resources.

“It is unfortunate and espec­ially unfair that here in Victoria we are forced to pay more for our power, particularly when we are potentially sitting on a safe, ­sustainable and yet cost-efficient alternative resource,” Ms Beard said.

A spokesman for the government said the moratorium was providing the government with time to get a clearer picture of the state’s onshore gas resources through its Victorian Gas Program, which is set to investigate onshore conventional gas supplies and focus on the Otway Basin in western Victoria.

The Andrews government sought federal assistance for the multi-million-dollar project.

“Our priority is securing more Victorian gas for Victorian customers, while protecting the interests of our regional communities,” a government spokesman said.

“Victorians are experiencing higher gas prices because Australia exports two-thirds of its gas overseas.

“It’s unsustainable — Malcolm Turnbull needs to put a cap on export­s; it’s ridiculous people in Japan are purchasing our gas at cheaper prices than we are.”

The Australian

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