November 26 - December 2 2023: Issue 607


Pittwater MP's Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023: Committee recommends that the Bill not pass - discussion Deferred until march 2024

On November 21, 2023 the Legislative Committee on Environment and Planning tabled its report into the Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023, which was referred to the Committee on 29 June 2023. 

The Bill was introduced to Parliament by Mr Rory Amon MP, Member for Pittwater, and sought to amend three Acts to prohibit offshore activities in NSW including drilling for petroleum.

The Bill was introduced in the context of strong community concern about Petroleum Exploration Permit (PEP-11). The Committee heard from various advocacy groups and members of the public who raised concerns about the environmental risks associated with offshore drilling and the importance of protecting NSW's coastlines. Mr Clayton Barr MP, Chair of the Committee, expressed his appreciation towards the inquiry participants.

"The Committee is incredibly grateful for the community's active engagement in this inquiry and understands the concerns that have been raised," said Mr Barr. "The Committee would like to sincerely thank everyone that took the time to participate in this inquiry, your insights have been incredibly insightful and have greatly helped to inform the report."

"We all support protecting our coastline and marine life and ecosystems. 

The NSW Government's 'Offshore exploration and mining' policy does not support petroleum exploration and mining. This position would be weighed into account when considering applications for potential petroleum projects in our State's waters."

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.

The Committee heard from legal experts and has found that aspects of the proposed legislation may be constitutionally invalid and have unintended consequences. The report makes 10 findings and 2 recommendations. These include that the Legislative Assembly not pass the Bill and that the NSW Government work with the Commonwealth to review environmental assessment standards that apply to offshore petroleum and mineral activities.

"The focus of this inquiry has been to examine the environmental impacts of offshore drilling and also identify risks with passing the legislation. The inquiry has revealed that the legal framework regulating offshore activities in the state is complex and there are serious risks that could result in negative consequences for the State."

"Amendments to the Bill were also considered. However, the majority of the Committee is of the view that amendments would undermine a core purpose of the Bill. Therefore, the Committee has recommended that the Bill not pass."

The Committee started this inquiry in July 2023, and received 49 submissions from a diverse range of stakeholders. It also heard from 18 witnesses including representatives from 11 organisations at a public hearing in October 2023. The report can be found on the Committee's webpage

PEP11 covers 4500sq/km of ocean from Manly through the Central Coast to Newcastle. 

In September 2020 Advent and Bounty Oil and Gas Company, which is 36% owned by BHP, began stating the project 'offers a substantial opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the reduction of CO2 emissions through CCS-Carbon Capture and Storage (geo-sequestration of CO2 emissions)' and have pursued this narrative along with seeking a renewal licence.

In its response this year to the Federal Government's 'Offshore renewable energy infrastructure area proposal: Pacific Ocean off Hunter', which ran for feedback from 23 February 2023 to 28 April 2023, Advent Energy Ltd stated;- 

'At this stage, in advance of proving up gas reserves by drilling, is it premature to identify the development strategy for PEP11 but it is likely that there would be installations at a number of locations across the PEP11 licence area.' and;

'A 2010 report on the areas prospectivity identified multiple potential locations. It is possible that in a success scenario, several locations would require gas production infrastructure.'

'Such a low number of locations is achievable by consequence of the advancement of directional drilling over the last three decades, extending the reach by which wellbores can be placed, thereby enabling reserves to be exploited from central locations with less impact on the environment.

The spatial requirements and visual impact of offshore gas production infrastructure is extremely low. Detailed description of such plant for PEP11 would be premature in advance of a successful exploration drilling campaign, however it is possible to give an overview based on other gas producing fields in Australia and elsewhere.

Much of the equipment is located on the seabed, connected by subsea pipelines or umbilicals. A small steel jacket may be pile driven into the sea floor, rising several tens of metres above sea level.

Floating processing and offtake vessels may also be present.

Another possibility is a pipeline directly to the shore, which may be optimal given that many of the structures mapped lie within 25 to 75 km from the onshore infrastructure such as the Jemena Gas Trunk pipeline.

In the event of commercial success in PEP11, Advent would be willing to discuss with Wind Farm Operators the optimal routing of any pipelines to and from shore for carbon sequestration and for gas production (The current windfarm area plan intersects a possible gas pipeline) and investigate any synergies which may arise.'

'Upon any variation of the work program and extension of the licence being granted, Asset will be ready to drill Seablue-1, at Baleen, within approximately 12 months, subject to regulatory approvals and drilling rig availability. As indicated Seablue-1 would be drilled approximately 30 km southeast of Newcastle and 26 km from shore at the nearest point.'

In September 2023 it was announced that the massive fossil oil and methane gas field stretching from offshore Sydney to Newcastle looks set to be exploited after all, with reports that the gas industry has made "good progress" in applying for test drilling.

Asset Energy Pty Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of Advent Energy Limited, an investee of BPH Energy Limited) continues to progress the Joint Venture's applications for the variation and suspension of work program conditions and related extension of PEP-11.

PEP-11 continues in force and the Joint Venture is in compliance with the contractual terms of PEP11 with respect to such matters as reporting, payment of rents and the various provisions of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (Cth).

While the applications for the variation and suspension of work program conditions and related extension of PEP-11 are being considered, Asset has stated it is continuing to investigate the availability of a mobile offshore drilling unit to drill the proposed Seablue-1 well on the Baleen prospect and is in communication with drilling contractors and other operators who have recently contracted rigs for work in the Australian offshore beginning in the first half of 2024. 

The PEP11 gas field had a tumultuous period leading into the last federal election when former Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned its development under the powers given to him by him through making himself the person in charge of extra ministries.

In a Federal Court ruling in February this year, which was supported by the current government, a judge ruled that: "a fair-minded observer would have reasonably apprehended that the former Prime Minister of Australia the Hon Scott Morrison MP, as a member of the Joint Authority, did not bring a fair mind to determine Asset Energy's application".

As a result, the Advent and Bounty Oil and Gas Company, which is 36% owned by BHP, has been talking to the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA), asking them if they can resume test drilling.

Reports say they have made good progress with the regulator.

According to reports supported by BHP, the company has continued to undertake environmental assessments and has awarded contracts for drilling infrastructure.

Friends of the Earth Offshore Fossil Gas Campaigner, Jeff Waters, said PEP11 was an environmental disaster waiting to happen on many levels.

"It is disturbing to think that, in spite of all of the evidence of a climate catastrophe, Australians are willing to unlock yet another vast fossil fuel reserve," Jeff Waters said.

"The Federal Government is clearly allowing PEP11 to quietly proceed."

"Allowing this to go ahead will simply cancel out every new carbon initiative the government is implementing," he said.

"Then there is the seismic blasting that will need to take place for the development of the field — repetitive blasts of noise as loud as an atomic bomb — which will kill or disorient sea life and render whales and dolphins deaf."

"What will Migaloo think when the annual whale migration is disturbed?"

Waters also said that any oil spill would result in the destruction of a huge section of the NSW coastline.

"Beaches from Port Macquarie to Port Kembla could be impacted, and it's hard to remove oil from the golden sands of Bondi or Manly Beach," he said.

It should be remembered that current Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also campaigned during the last federal lection on a platform of not supporting PEP-11:

However, as we go to press, the project is still being assessed, or progressed, through NOPTA and NOPSEMA.

On November 22 2023, the Legislative Assembly agreed to extend this bill's lapsing date to 14/3/2024. It had been due to lapse on December 2nd. On the same date a Motion tabled by The Hon Ron Hoenig, NSW Minister for Local Government that the House 'Postpone consideration of all remaining stages of the Environment and Planning Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023 to Wednesday 13 March 2024 at 2.30 p.m.' was also voted on and passed.

In introducing the suspension of standing and sessional orders (Order of Business), Mr. Hoenig stated ''...this Government has not changed the former Government's policy. That policy is that the New South Wales offshore exploration and mining policy provides that it does not support offshore mineral, coal or petroleum exploration or mining for commercial purposes in or adjacent to New South Wales coastal waters and will consider offshore mineral exploration or mining in New South Wales coastal waters only for the purposes of beach nourishment provided it is for the broader public benefit. That policy is a policy of the former Government. It has not changed with this Government.

''However, the relevant Minister is required to consider that application under assessment from the Commonwealth-New South Wales Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority and, as part of that, cannot do what Scott Morrison did and not follow the appropriate processes. This motion to suspend standing and sessional orders, if carried by the House, will move consideration of the bill so that it can be dealt with in finality at the March sittings of this House. It may well be that the matter is finally determined in the intervening period by the Commonwealth-New South Wales Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority. The Government anticipates that will occur and that it will be done in accordance with the appropriate processes.''

On the same date the NSW Liberal party stated that the NSW Labor Party has betrayed coastal communities:

'A Labor-dominated Parliamentary Committee has recommended the voting down a Bill that would protect NSW coastal communities from offshore drilling for gas and oil. 

The Opposition’s Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023 would effectively stop projects like PEP-11 by preventing any development associated with gas drilling, such as pipelines, through the seabed in NSW coastal waters.' 

Opposition Leader Mark Speakman said this was looking like another broken Minns Labor Government promise. 

“Before the election, Labor repeatedly said that they were opposed to PEP-11 and would ban it,” Mr Speakman said. “But now that they have the opportunity to protect our environment from offshore drilling risks, they decide to vote it down.” 

Shadow Environment Minister Kellie Sloane, the sole Coalition committee member, said it’s clear the Minns Labor Government never had any intention of supporting the Bill. 

“Labor MPs up and down the NSW coast promised their communities they would fight against PEP-11, but when the opportunity came they chose politics over people and the environment.” 

“This is a betrayal of coastal communities who expressed significant opposition to these offshore gas and oil projects in NSW,” said Ms Sloane. 

“The Minns Labor Government is using the excuse of an entirely hypothetical future fight with the Albanese Labor Government to vote against this important Bill that would have given our coastal communities certainty.” 

Member for Pittwater Rory Amon, who introduced the Opposition’s Private Members Bill, said Northern Beaches locals can’t trust Labor when it comes to our precious coastline. 

“Labor has long campaigned against offshore gas and oil, while continuing to play pure politics and referring the Bill to a partisan committee for a Government stitch up. Labor’s committee now recommends the Bill be dumped.” 

“This move by the Minns Labor Government is effectively a green-light for offshore gas and oil rigs off Pittwater. Together with our coastal communities we will continue to fight this.”

Surfers for Climate, an Australian charity dedicated to turning the tide on climate change, whose CEO Josh Kirkman spoke at the June 2023 press conference announcing the tabling of the Bill, stated on Tuesday, November 21:

'We are disappointed at the Environment and Planning Committee’s recommendation to block the NSW Minerals Legislation Amendment Bill that would ban all new oil and gas in NSW and surprised at the lack of commitment from the government to stop PEP-11 for good. 

If you want the government to stop floundering in the impact zone by stopping PEP11 and banning all new offshore oil and gas in NSW, head to the link in our profile to send a message to your NSW Labor representatives now asking them to back this bill when it comes to parliament.'