February 27 - March 5, 2022: Issue 528


NSW Government rules out commercial offshore exploration and mining

Offshore exploration and mining for commercial purposes will be ruled out in NSW under a landmark policy introduced by the NSW Government.

Deputy Premier and Minister responsible for Resources Paul Toole has announced the NSW Government will not support commercial applications for offshore mineral, coal, or petroleum exploration or mining, in or adjacent to, NSW coastal waters. The statement was released on Wednesday February 23rd 2022.

Mr Toole said any offshore exploration or mining will be limited to tackling coastal erosion through beach renourishment, where a clear public benefit exists. 

“NSW has some of the world’s most spectacular coastlines which support local industries and make them a great place to live and visit, and we want that to continue for future generations,” Mr Toole said.

“This policy recognises that our coastal ecosystems are complex and sensitive and formalises our long-held view that the NSW Government will not support offshore exploration or mining for commercial purposes.

“While our coastline will be off-limits for commercial operators, exploration and the potential mining of sand will remain an option to address coastal erosion and restore sand to beaches, such as the work already being carried out at Newcastle’s Stockton Beach.”

Mr Toole said the NSW Government remains committed to delivering a responsible and balanced approach to the development of the state’s resources.

“We’ve provided certainty to the NSW onshore coal sector, which remains a key employer and on track to deliver record royalties, and we’ve unveiled a strategy to grow the local critical minerals and advanced manufacturing sectors,” Mr Toole said.

“We also have a very clear vision for onshore gas exploration and production, providing certainty for regional communities and industry alike.   

“This is another way we are shaping a stronger and more sustainable sector and providing greater confidence for investors and clarity to both industry and regional NSW communities.”

The NSW Government's Offshore Exploration and Mining Policy states the Government will consider applications for offshore mineral exploration and mining for sand for the purposes of beach nourishment, provided it can be demonstrated that it is for a broader public benefit. Such activity could benefit any local government areas where coastal erosion is an issue and beach remediation activities could be supported by offshore sand mining.

''Sand harvesting for the purposes of beach nourishment retains the sand in the system, relocating it from the sea floor to the beach. Beach nourishment delivers community benefits in contributing to the restoration and amenity of public beaches.

Prospective applicants will need to satisfy the Minister that their application is for beach nourishment purposes and will provide a public benefit in order to be permitted to apply for an exploration licence. Being granted approval to apply for an exploration licence does not automatically mean that an exploration licence will be granted, and any application will be individually assessed and must all regulatory requirements under the Offshore Minerals Act 1999.

Similarly, the granting of an exploration licence does not automatically mean that mining will be permitted. In order to progress to sand mining, development consent under the NSW planning framework would need to be obtained following the completion of exploration activities. ''

Further, the Policy states;

''The NSW Government does not support offshore coal and petroleum exploration and mining as the potential impacts on sensitive marine environments, indigenous heritage, commercial and recreational fishing and other recreational activities outweigh the potential benefits.

The NSW Government also acknowledges there has been strong community opposition to offshore exploration and mining.''

The Government states it is committed to providing certainty to industry and community about exploration and mining in NSW, both onshore and offshore. This policy complements the Government’s direction set out in the Strategic Statement on Coal Exploration and Mining in NSW and the Future of Gas Statement.  

During Wednesday's parliamentary sessions The Hon. Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater made a Private Members' Statement which opened;

''I am absolutely stoked to inform the house of the Government's landmark policy to ban commercial offshore mineral, coal and petroleum exploration and mining in New South Wales coastal waters. How amazing is that? Just 20 years ago the idea of gas and petroleum exploration in New South Wales coastal waters was considered innovative, even progressive. But two decades of emerging awareness of the climate emergency and of the lived experience of catastrophic failures of offshore gas and petroleum platforms has led to a revolution in community sentiment. I was having a surf at Mona Vale one day when I saw a paddle-out against the offshore Petroleum Exploration Permit 11 [PEP 11]. I was delighted to be able to join my community in the water to protest against an absolutely harebrained, amazingly offensive proposal to permit commercial exploration and potential exploitation of a gas field 4.5 kilometres off the coast of the Northern Beaches and Central Coast of New South Wales, covering an area of 4,500 square kilometres.

.... my community of Pittwater had fought fiercely against the potential renewal and expansion of the PEP 11, which could have resulted in drilling platforms situated at various points just off the New South Wales coast and the great city of Sydney. For me, the paddle-out was a family affair as we all joined hands in the water around a mock-up gas rig. I noticed my niece, Lucinda Cook, out in the surf and was able to join hands with her as she stood up for the interests of future generations in supporting renewable energy and ocean health over fossil fuels and oil spills.

This is a fantastic win for my community of Pittwater, and for other coastal communities of New South Wales, who together have fought tirelessly to protect our incredible marine environments. In New South Wales we understand that to achieve the New South Wales Government's strong climate targets of a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050 we need to secure sufficient transitional energy sources to enable the decommissioning of coal‑fired power stations and support the ongoing introduction of, and improvements in, clean energy. Offshore drilling platforms are completely inconsistent with the Government's vision. We know that offshore exploration and mining has the potential to disrupt the migration patterns of marine animals such as whales and dolphins. It can also present an increased risk of contamination to our sensitive marine ecosystems and, frankly, is a blight on our pristine seascapes.

Thirty years ago there were fewer than 300 humpback whales traversing the east coast of Australia in their annual migration in search of food or warmer waters to give birth to a new generation. Now there are more than 35,000 a year. How we could put this remarkable turnaround at risk is simply beyond me, let alone add to the more than $50 billion estimated clean‑up cost already required to deal with the detritus of existing and historical offshore mining activities around the Australian coast—a clean‑up bill left to future generations to pay.

Today, the Government announcement is unequivocal and provides certainty for Pittwater and all other coastal communities in New South Wales. We will not allow commercial offshore exploration and mining for minerals, coal or petroleum. This outcome is indeed the culmination of incredible team effort by locals across a broad spectrum and across all sides of politics. 

I thank the northern beaches Surfrider Foundation, particularly the indefatigable Rowan Hanley and the surfing barbarian himself, Brendon Donohoe, who helped carry this important campaign through its many challenges and setbacks and now in this incredible victory.

I also thank the local surfing community and great ocean advocates, such as Layne Beachley and Tom Carroll, and other volunteers who were involved in paddle-outs and other events to raise awareness of this issue. I thank everyone who has signed a petition, who has cared about future generations and about inheriting our magnificent and beautiful marine environment.''

The Honourable Member for Pittwater's statement may be read in full through Hansard.

On February 17, 2022 The Hon Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia released a statement announcing the Australian  Government has taken the next step to formally reject the application for the Offshore Petroleum Exploration Permit PEP-11. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said following the Government’s proposed decision to not suspend, extend and vary the title conditions of PEP-11 on December 16, 2021, the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) issued the applicant a Notice of Intention to Refuse and granted the applicant 30 days to respond to the notice.

“After considering the applicant’s response, I have made the decision under section 59(3) of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 to propose to refuse the application,” the Prime Minister said.

“As a result, I have written to New South Wales Deputy Premier Paul Toole, as the joint authority partner, advising of the Government’s proposed decision.“

Deputy Premier Toole had 30 days to respond, following which a decision will be finalised.