February 11 - 17, 2024: Issue 613


NSW Government introduces Bill to prohibit offshore mining: PEP11 to be Restricted to commonwealth waters if licence is extended, again

On January 31 2024 Asset Energy partner in the PEP11, Bounty Oil & Gas advised via a statement to the ASX that NOPTA has made a recommendation to Joint Authority on Bounty and Asset Energy’s applications for extension of their PEP11 licence.

Asset Energy, as major holder of PEP 11, states it is still actively preparing to drill Seablue1; exploration drilling for natural gas and greenhouse gas storage about 26km offshore and 30km from Newcastle. 

The release statement also says;

‘’Polling conducted discovers a majority of voters in the Hunter region do not oppose drilling offshore Newcastle.’’

This also formed part of Advent Energy Limited’s submission to the Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023 Inquiry, tabled by Pittwater MP Rory Amon in June 2023.

In a survey of 1000 people by a group commissioned by the PEP11 proponents they found; ‘37% of respondents said they supported gas exploration offshore in the Hunter region, 41% neither supported or opposed the activity, and 22% opposed this local gas exploration’.

The inquiry looked into a range of issues, particularly whether the Bill raises any potential constitutional issues and unintended consequences, and its report sets out its findings and proposed recommendations.

On Tuesday February 6, The Hon. Paul Scully, NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, introduced the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Sea Bed Mining and Exploration) Bill 2024 - long title: 'An Act to amend the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to prohibit the carrying out of sea bed petroleum and mineral exploration and recovery and related development; and for related purposes.'

The prohibition does not apply to coastal protection works and certain dredging.

With the Minns government having the numbers in the NSW Parliament, this Bill is set to pass.

Proposed Schedule 10, section 2 prohibits a person from carrying out—

(a) sea bed petroleum exploration or recovery, or sea bed mineral exploration or recovery, in the coastal waters of the State, or

(b) other development within the State for the purposes of sea bed petroleum exploration or recovery or sea bed mineral exploration or recovery.

Proposed Schedule 10, section 3 enables regulations to be made to exempt the following from the prohibition—

(a) specified sea bed mineral exploration or recovery,

(b) specified development for the purposes of sea bed petroleum exploration or recovery or sea bed mineral exploration or recovery.

This is a Henry VIII provision. 'Henry VIII clauses' are clauses in a bill that enable ministers to amend or repeal provisions in an Act of Parliament using secondary legislation, which is subject to varying degrees of parliamentary scrutiny.

The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, being the Minister administering the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, must consult with the Minister for the Environment before recommending the making of an exemption regulation.

Proposed Schedule 10, section 4 provides that certain authorisations under the Offshore Minerals Act 1999 and the Petroleum (Offshore) Act 1982 must not be granted or renewed if the authorisation relates to development prohibited under the proposed schedule.

No mention of Mr. Amon's stopping of anything extracted being denied a place to pipe into and onto NSW land though. No Mention of Assets other stated position to use their project for carbon capture storage.

The next day, February 7th, Federal Greens Members were calling on the Prime Minister to follow suit. As stated by Greens spokesperson for healthy oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson:

"Anthony Albanese talked a big game in opposition about stopping PEP11, but has yet to walk the talk since news broke that this toxic project could be back unless his government and the NSW government decide to stop it.

"What's the PM waiting for now the NSW Labor Government has given him political cover by introducing its own bill to kill the project? There's no plausible reason for this destructive project to go ahead; Australia doesn't need it and NSW coastal communities don't want it. 

"PEP11 proponent Advent Energy wasted no time flagging its intention to proceed with the project despite the NSW Government's bill and in spite of immense community opposition.

"It's crucial the Albanese Government responds immediately and gives assurance to coastal communities that this project won't proceed. Setting a precedent for stopping destructive offshore oil and gas projects in our oceans should be something to celebrate, not cower from."

However, it is the The Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority (Joint Authority) for each state and the Northern Territory, comprising the responsible Commonwealth Minister and the relevant State or Northern Territory minister, who makes that final sign off or not. 

Federal Minister for Resources is The Hon. Madeleine King MP has the decision on what NOPTA has sent in its report on a PEP 11 extension.

Mr. Albanese shows no signs of 'doing a Scotty'.

Mackellar MP Dr. Scamps welcomed the announcement, stating;

''Today is a great win for our community, for our coast and for our climate. The NSW Government’s decision to legislate to block the PEP-11 offshore petroleum project is a vital step forward in stopping it altogether, with the final decision sitting with the Federal government later this year. 

I have been working hard to bring an end to PEP-11 since before the last federal election. I’ve met both the NSW State and Federal environment ministers a number of times about the issue, telling them that the people of the Northern Beaches would never accept drilling for oil and gas off our beaches. 

I have also spoken in parliament a number of times about the issue, including seconding Zali Steggall MP’s Bill to end PEP-11, reiterating each time that it would never be accepted by our community. 

So, it is great news that the State Environment Minister got the message, saying that her decision was based on the fact that the ‘overwhelming majority’ oppose offshore mining. 

PEP-11 would have allowed drilling for gas in an area just 50kms off the coast from Manly through the Central Coast to Newcastle, and would have posed a great threat to our local coastline. 

This hopefully ends years of uncertainty about this destructive fossil fuel project, right on Sydney’s doorstep. It is the right decision, particularly because Australia has now committed in international forums to a swift and just transition away from fossil fuels. 

Stopping new fossil fuel projects, particularly highly risky ones that could damage not only our local environment, but also our industries like tourism and fishing, is the first step toward that goal. 

I also want to pay tribute to the independent candidate for Pittwater, Jacqui Scruby, who developed the Save our Beaches Bill to block this risky development during the 2023 campaign, and which was ultimately introduced by the current Member for Pittwater.''

Jacqui Scruby was a little more inclusive of all who have worked for years opposing oil rigs off our shores, naming Living Ocean, whose Robbi Luscombe-Newman started the ball rolling back in 2016 in speaking about this to local people while the Living Ocean group successfully stopped seismic testing occurring during whale migration season in 2017 by referring to a NSW Maritime Marine Notice that hasn't been published since, and continued, joining up with Newcastle's Save Our Coast / Stop Seismic Testing, who commenced their campaign to Save Our Seas from 2018 when Natasha Deen got busy, then Surfrider Northern Beaches waded in, led by the articulate Brendan Donohue and oceans champions like Layne Beachley with paddle outs along the coast, and were joined by Pittwater MP Rob Stokes, then Mackellar MP Jason Falinski, although he didn't support Warringah MP Zali Stegall's 'Stop PEP11 Bill', voting against it, along with local Greens members such as Miranda Korzy and now Federal Greens MP David Shoebridge along with thousands of all those 'little people' - us! - all of the time, then newly elected Pittwater MP Rory Amon made it his priority during his first year to push for NSW protections with a suite of ideas.

The Bill will legislatively implement the Offshore Exploration and Mining Policy that was published in February 2022, which makes this an instance where the current incumbents are inclusive as well, and brings back memories of The Hon. Paul Toole as the Deputy Premier of New South Wales stating offshore mining was 'off the table'.

This is a major step to protect NSW waters from environmental damage. The NSW Government has given notice to introduce legislation that will prohibit seabed petroleum and mineral exploration and recovery in NSW coastal waters.

The legislation aims to give our communities certainty and reaffirms the NSW Government’s long held position of not supporting offshore mineral, coal or petroleum exploration or mining for commercial purposes in or adjacent to NSW coastal waters, the government said in a statement.

'The NSW Government’s Bill is designed to prevent the severe environmental impacts that can result from offshore exploration and recovery of petroleum and minerals.

Offshore recovery also carries the risk of major environmental disasters like oil spills and potential climate change impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions associated with petroleum extraction.

No other States or Territories have acted so comprehensively to prohibit all offshore petroleum mining and exploration in state waters. Only the Northern Territory, in 2021, has prohibited sea bed mineral mining across that jurisdiction.'

The prohibitions of the Bill do not extend to activities which may benefit the environment such as the recovery of sand for beach nourishment or beach scraping which are undertaken to help protect coastal areas from erosion. Certain dredging activities could also continue, for example, to increase the depth of anchorages, remove sediments or pollutants, lay pipelines or submarine cables.

Minister for Climate Change and the Environment The Hon. Penny Sharpe said:

“We know an overwhelming majority of people in NSW do not support offshore mining. The passage of this Bill will give certainty that our government is prioritising environmental protection and our own local interests.

“This Bill is a sensible amendment to our legislation to protect NSW against the risks of offshore mining.”

Minister for the Central Coast, David Harris said:

“This is about providing communities with certainty that is in the best interest of NSW as well as protecting the NSW coastal waters and marine environments.

‘This is something our communities have long campaigned for and it is great to see it come to fruition.”

Handstands and cartwheels time for humans and more spectacular leaping whales and every other living ocean creature kept safe can follow once NEATS has been updated should the Joint Authority agree.

The PEP11 (Petroleum Exploration Permit 11) licence covers 4500sq/km of ocean, in places just 5.5km from the shore, from Manly through the Central Coast to Newcastle. PEP11 is entirely in Commonwealth waters, which begin 5.5km offshore.

The second Reading for the Bill took place on February 7th. 

No statement from the Office of the Member for Pittwater has been issued at the time of publication.