February 5 - 11, 2023: Issue 570


agreement to end PEP-11 litigation revives applicants' Licence extension process: responses from candidates for pittwater in 2023 state election - MP for Mackellar

Humpback whales off Barrenjoey migrating north - in 2017 the PEP-11 proponents wanted to conduct seismic testing during whale migration season.
On Friday February 3rd Federal Minister for Resources, The Hon Madeleine King MP, announced the Australian Government and Asset Energy have reached an agreement to end ongoing litigation relating to PEP-11 and have filed proposed consent orders with the Federal Court of Australia.

Asset Energy had commenced proceedings in the Federal Court to challenge Scott Morrison’s decision to refuse applications in relation to PEP-11, and was scheduled for a 2 day hearing in March 2023. The proceedings had commenced prior to revelations former Prime Minister Scott Morrison had appointed himself to several portfolios, including Keith Pitt's portfolio as Minister for Resources and Water. 

On June 2nd, 2022 in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, BPH Energy Limited (ASX:BPH) advised that investee Advent Energy Limited's subsidiary Asset Energy Pty Ltd had applied to the Federal Court pursuant to section 5 of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth) and section 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth) to review the decision of the Commonwealth-New South Wales Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority (Joint Authority), constituted under section 56 of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (Cth) (Act), to refuse to vary and suspend the conditions of Exploration Permit for Petroleum No.11 (PEP 11 Permit), pursuant to section 264(2) of the Act, and to refuse to extend the term of the PEP 11 Permit, pursuant to section 265 of the Act. 

Once the Bell Inquiry report was published, and submissions made available, including one from Asset Energy Pty Ltd, and a court date listed, BPH confirmed a “bundle of documents” have been made publicly available and relate to Mr Morrison’s purported decision.

The consent orders, if granted, will vacate Mr Morrison’s decision to refuse applications in relation to PEP-11, and return the PEP-11 application to the Commonwealth-New South Wales Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority for a new decision.

In the first instance, the Government of New South Wales, as the New South Wales member of the Joint Authority, will consider its position in relation to the project as a relevant decision maker under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act (2006).

The Commonwealth will then consider the matter once the New South Wales member of the Commonwealth-New South Wales Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority has considered the matter.

The Minister for Resources, the Hon Madeleine King MP, welcomed that both parties have reached an agreement to resolve the court proceedings.

Minister King stated, “I assure Australians that any decisions that I take as the Federal Minister for Resources will always be based on sound evidence and in accordance with the law. Australians quite rightly expect this of their elected leaders.

“I am not going to provide an ongoing commentary on future official decisions that come before the Joint Authority, whether in relation to PEP-11 or any other matter.”

The PEP-11 exploration licence covers 4,500 square kilometres offshore from Manly in the south to Newcastle in the north.

The proponents recently announced they had raised $1.2 million through a share placement with plans to attribute some of the funds to a PEP-11 drilling program and to invest in hydrogen and CCS tech, also related to PEP-11. 

Prior to the 2022 Federal election Labor were opposing PEP-11. At a press conference on the New South Wales Central Coast in November 2021, then opposition leader Anthony Albanese was clear on Labor's stance.

"Absolutely, we will stop PEP-11 going ahead, full stop. Exclamation mark. No question. Not equivocal. No ifs, no buts," he said.

MP for Mackellar, Dr. Sophie Scamps stated after the announcement, ‘’Our community was promised that PEP-11was dead in the water. However, the possibility that fossil fuel companies could drill for oil and gas off the coast of Manly to Newcastle is once again alive after the Federal Government agreed to reverse Scott Morrison's decision to cancel PEP-11.

One thing I know for sure is the people of Mackellar will never accept drilling for oil and gas off our beaches and we will fight any attempt to resuscitate PEP-11.

This decision is a major setback for my community. However the Albanese Government now has a chance to show it can do what the Liberal Party never could, and that is act in the best interests of communities up and down the east coast of Australia and finally cancel the PEP-11 licence.

Drilling for new oil and gas reserves is completely at odds with the Albanese Government' s climate targets and I call on the Resources Minister Madeline King and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to do the right thing and cancel the PEP-11 licence once and for all. I will be meeting with Resources Minister when Parliament returns next week to convey my community's outright opposition to PEP- 11.

The reality is there should be no more oil and gas exploration anywhere in Australian waters. We should instead focus investment in clean, cheap, and reliable renewables. This is the future.

It is now clear the actions of Scott Morrison and his government before the 2022 election were a cynical attempt to win votes, based! purely on spin and little substance.’’

Liberal Party Candidate Rory Amon, in the 2023 state election for the seat of Pittwater said,

"The people of Pittwater have already made it clear they do not want PEP-11. I call strongly on the Federal Labor Government and the Member for Mackellar to ensure PEP-11 does not proceed.

PEP-11 was first issued under Labor, and renewed under Labor.

The NSW Government has been against PEP-11 every step of the way. Not only did the NSW Government scrap the renewal of the licence, in February 2022 the NSW Government announced it would not support any exploration or mining on our coastal waters."

Rory  Amon

NSW Environment Minister and Manly MP James Griffin stated on Friday, ‘’Not only did we oppose it in 2021, but Premier Dom Perrottet has today spoken to the Prime Minister to reiterate the NSW Government’s opposition to PEP-11. ‘’

NSW Premier Dom Perrottet said ''I have written to and had a discussion with the Prime Minister and reaffirmed the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government’s opposition to the extension of PEP-11.

The NSW Liberal and Nationals Government opposed the extension of PEP-11 in 2022, and although a decision has yet to be made by the Federal Court of Australia, I reaffirm our opposition as we have done over a number of years.''

Labour Leader Chris Minns said, ‘’NSW Labor reiterates our long standing opposition to the PEP-11 project. We stand with our Federal Labor colleagues in this opposition, as we have for over a decade. But this is what happens when Liberal Governments don’t follow the proper process.

The company’s appeal was based on Scott Morrison’s decision to secretly swear himself in as a Minister. This has created more uncertainty for the local communities on the Central Coast, Newcastle and Northern Beaches.

As we reiterated today, Labor is opposed to the project. Our local Labor MPs on the Central Coast and the Hunter have consistently stood with their communities to oppose PEP-11. Labor also voted in the NSW upper house to oppose the renewal of PEP-11.''

Greens Candidate for Pittwater Hilary Green said on Saturday, ''The Greens are dusting off our PEP-11 protest signs ready to fight gas exploration on the Northern Beaches again.

Just today, we went through our PEP-11 material, getting ready for action against the charade that any new application would be.''

''The PEP-11 area, off our beautiful coast, is within the world-renowned whale migration path and dolphin habitat.  The risks to the precious coastal ecosystem with its rich biodiversity, our climate, our livelihoods and our way of life, are unfathomable!  

However, in reality, licences for gas exploration off the coast between Newcastle and Wollongong are already stranded assets and the notion that they would be extended is a nonsense.

Stranded fossil fuel assets are occurring all around the world and to keep their share prices up, their owners need to keep their image alive on the stock markets and in the media.

That way they can appear like an economic opportunity, to attract a buyer who might “rescue” them - that’s why we believe they attempt to renew their licences.

However, they are now swimming against the tide, which has turned and will continue to run, and these are the last desperate gasps of the fossil fuel industry.

Northern Beaches Greens have fought against this project from the very beginning - when one of our astute members discovered the Asset Energy link to Santos and then not widely known Petroleum Exploration Permit -11 (PEP-11).

We then raised the alarm with former Greens MP Justin Field, who alerted the public and Parliament.

Energy companies, such as Asset, will endeavour to convince governments that these fuels are needed.  They are not! 

Gas is a dirty fossil fuel which causes 84 times more climate damage than carbon dioxide and most of our gas is exported.  

Let’s keep it stowed in the ground, both on land at sea, where it can’t pollute.''

Hilary Green

Also on Saturday seven NSW Independent Candidates standing in the upcoming NSW state election, including current MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich, first elected in 2012, announced their support for a Bill that would stop the controversial PEP-11 oil and gas exploration licence. 

Alex Greenwich MP, Jacqui Scruby (Independent for Pittwater), Joeline Hackman (Independent for Manly), Karen Freyer (Independent for Vaucluse), Helen Conway (Independent for North Shore), and Victoria Davidson (Independent for Lane Cove), will co-sponsor and vote for the bill to protect our beautiful beaches and ensure the state government’s actions back up its words when it comes to climate change. 

Elizabeth Farrelly, standing as an Independent for the Upper House, confirmed her backing for the Bill as well.

The Independnants state the Bill reveals that, while the NSW Liberal Party has argued ultimate power for deciding whether PEP-11 goes ahead rests with the Commonwealth Government, the State Government can now with one simple piece of legislation end PEP-11 once and for all. 

If the Bill is passed, with the support of the Independents, no matter what the Commonwealth Government does, PEP-11 will be 'dead in the water'. 

Alex Greenwich MP, Member for Sydney, said: 

“It’s remarkable that the Federal Labor Government would seek to overturn the only good environmental policy of the former Coalition government. We will do everything we can in NSW to stop this.” 

Jacqui Scruby, Independent for Pittwater, said: 

“Protecting Pittwater means protecting our beautiful beaches. 

Our community is incensed by the prospect of oil and gas mining just kilometres off our beaches, and we must do everything we can to make sure PEP-11 never eventuates. 

I am proud to have helped develop a bill that gives power back to the state government and would end PEP-11 once and for all. It’s not enough to say you’re against it, or it’s your policy - if you’re the government, you have to legislate - and that’s what we’re doing.

This is such a significant issue for our community, and this will be a critical factor in my decision-making should I be in the position to guarantee supply in a minority government.” 

Joeline Hackman, Independent for Manly, said:

“From Manly to Newcastle, no one wants to see destruction of sea life or watch gas rigs off our beaches. 

Our community has clearly said that we don’t want new exploration licenses on our coast – that will severely impact some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. 

Our community wants legislative certainty that there will be no more attempts by the government to exploit our environment.” 

Karen Freyer, Independent for Vaucluse, said: 

“There’s only one way to stop new coal and gas projects: that’s by voting climate-conscious independents into office at the state election this March.

Since 2016, 26 new coal projects have been approved by the NSW Coalition government. Another eight are likely to be considered in 2023. 

The waters off NSW’s coast are no place for a gas field.

I am supporting this bill because my community does not want oil and gas mining off their coastline. It is as simple as that.” 

Helen Conway, Independent for North Shore, said: 

“The handling of the PEP-11 issue has been an utter shemozzle from the start. There is no social licence for gas exploration off Sydney’s pristine coast. 

I’m hearing loud and clear from my community that it’s time to take a stand and act now to deliver faster action on climate and the protection of our environment. That is why I will stand in support of this Bill.

New fossil fuel developments are incompatible with emissions reductions targets, fail to address climate change, and fly in the face of Australia’s international commitments.”

Victoria Davidson,  Independent for Lane Cove, said: 

“Let’s be clear: there must be no new coal and gas projects.

This is a landmark example of how our politicians are failing to represent their communities, who want urgent action on climate change.  

If NSW fails to transition away from fossil fuels, its climate policy is meaningless. I’m hearing from the community of Lane Cove that they want faster emissions reduction, and a real commitment to transitioning our economy to a decarbonised future - that is why I am supporting this Bill.”

Elizabeth Farrelly Independent candidate for the Upper House

''This morning I joined several teal independent candidates at the Domain to make some noise about the evil PEP-11 offshore drilling gas permit off the coast of Sydney. Everything they tell you about gas is a lie – we must end the era of harmful, inefficient fossil fuels NOW.''

L to r: Elizabeth Farrelly,  Karen Freyer, Joeline Hackman, Jacqui Scruby, Helen Conway, Victoria Davidson (at back) and Alex Greenwich MP. Image: Facebook

The Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches branch, which has been among a host of local community organisations, including Living Ocean, Newcastle's Save Our Coast / Stop Seismic Testing, Surfrider Foundation Manly and Central Coast, that organised 'STOP PEP-11' protests and actions along the coast for years, stated;

''Like a bad penny PEP 11 keeps popping up. But we have news for all the tin pot prospectors from Perth, NO KEITH, NO FRIENDS.

It’s now time for all our NSW and Federal MPs to walk their talk and fulfil their promises to our local communities. That is NO NSW OFFSHORE FOSSIL FUEL MINING. ''

''Only legislation will truly protect our coast. Lining up with Bills are NSW Independents, Zali Steggall’s STOP PEP 11 Bill, and the Australian Greens Fight for Australia's Coastline Bill.

PEP 11 is a dud deal economically, environmentally, and has NEVER had the social license to operate off our coast. Drilling 2km deep into ancient porous sandstone shelf 25km SE off Newcastle for oil and gas is.... preposterous! 

May all our elected representatives at all levels up and down our coast, work together to end new offshore fossil fuel mining once and for all.''

Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches President Brendan Donohoe and then Fderal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in November 2021. Photo: Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches