June 25 - July 15, 2023: Issue 589


Pittwater MP's introduced bill adopts a ‘no development in NSW Coastal Waters’ approach to ending PEP-11

On June 1st 2023 Pittwater MP Rory Amon announced the NSW Coalition will introduce legislation to prevent offshore coal, gas, mineral and petroleum mining and exploration in NSW waters, fulfilling an election commitment and renewing calls for the Federal Labor Government to prevent offshore mining in neighbouring Commonwealth waters. 

''The Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023 will deliver on the Coalition’s policy to prevent offshore mining and exploration in NSW waters. '' Mr. Amon said in a statement

“The former NSW Coalition Government was consistently opposed to offshore mining due to the grave concerns we hold about the possible impact on the environment,” Opposition Leader Mark Speakman said. 

Shadow Environment Minister Kellie Sloane has called on the Labor Government to support the legislation saying “the Coalition will always stand up for the environment and our communities, who have said loud and clear that care deeply about our pristine coastline”. 

“The NSW and Federal Labor Governments must confirm that they support our ban, otherwise the uncertainty of future offshore exploration and mining will continue to hang over our coastal communities,” Ms Sloane said. 

The Bill was listed in the Business papers for the next sitting of the NSW Parliament.

On Thursday June 22nd 2023 Mr. Amon introduced into Parliament his Coalition backed Private Members Bill which could finally put an end to PEP-11 – the Mineral Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023

The Bill not only bans exploration and mining of petroleum, gas and coal in State waters, it prevents any approvals or development in State waters which would facilitate the exploration or mining in Commonwealth waters. 

Specifically, the objects of the Bill are to prohibit the granting of permits and licences for the purposes of undertaking or facilitating seabed petroleum exploration or recovery, prohibit the granting of licences permitting offshore exploration or mining activities, except licences for or in relation to the recovery of sand for the purpose of beach nourishment, and prohibit development for the purposes of undertaking or facilitating sea bed petroleum exploration or recovery or seabed mineral exploration or recovery.

The bill would amend the Petroleum (Offshore) Act 1982 to include new section 103A, which would prohibit the Minister from granting permits for exploration for petroleum in New South Wales coastal waters; licences for mining of petroleum in New South Wales coastal waters; and licences for the construction of pipelines within New South Wales coastal waters, where those pipelines are to be used in connection with the mining of petroleum in general. 

While New South Wales' jurisdiction only extends to three nautical miles offshore, this bill would prohibit any development within the State of New South Wales itself, or the waters within its jurisdiction, to support mineral or petroleum exploration or mining off the coast of New South Wales in general. 

In presenting the Bill Mr. Amon explained that defines "offshore area of the State" in accordance with the Commonwealth's Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006. That Act defines the New South Wales offshore area to include:

… so much of the scheduled area for that State as comprises waters of the sea that are:
(a)beyond the outer limits of the coastal waters of that State; and
(b)within the outer limits of the continental shelf.

This definition is crucial, as new section 10.17 (1) (b) prohibits any development in the State for the purposes of maintenance, repair, provisioning or fuelling of vessels, aircraft or equipment used for the above activities; handling, refining or processing petroleum or minerals obtained from the above activities; or unloading or transportation, including by pipeline, of petroleum or minerals obtained from those activities. This applies whether those activities are in the coastal waters of New South Wales, being within three nautical miles of our coast, or the offshore area of the State, which Mr. Amon defined.

The bill, in effect, would prevent, as far as New South Wales law permits, any petroleum or mineral exploration or recovery off the coast of New South Wales. 

This approach means that if the Commonwealth approves petroleum or mineral exploration in the offshore area beyond New South Wales State waters—that is, beyond three nautical miles from the New South Wales coast—but within the offshore area of the State, no approval can be granted to development in New South Wales or its coastal waters for the purposes of the maintenance, repair, provision or refuelling of vessel, aircraft or equipment related to the exploration or recovery of petroleum or minerals from the seabed; the handling, refining or processing of petroleum or minerals from the seabed; or the unloading or transportation, including by pipeline, of that petroleum or minerals.

The Commonwealth marine area is any part of the sea, including the waters, seabed, and airspace, within Australia's exclusive economic zone and/or over the continental shelf of Australia, that is not state or Northern Territory waters. The Commonwealth marine area stretches from 3 up to 200 nautical miles from the coast.

PEP-11 is a Commonwealth licence granted over Commonwealth waters for the exploration and mining of gas and oil off the NSW Coast from Sydney to Newcastle.

Proponents Advent submitted to the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) an application to enable drilling approx.26 km SSE off Newcastle. The PEP11 Joint Venture proposes to proceed with the drilling subject to approvals from NOPTA and other regulatory authorities, and financing. 

In March 2023 Advent investment company BPH Energy (ASX: BPH) returned to ASX trading from a three-month suspension after clarifying details around its controversial PEP-11 offshore gas project. BPH’s trading suspension related to the breach of ASX listing rules when referencing the project’s resource estimate and using it in relation to forecast market costs. The company, which owns 36.1% of the offshore NSW project’s operator Advent Energy, released an announcement to the market clarifying comments made in news articles in December 2022 referencing a mineral resource estimate totalling 5.665 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The current permit expiry date was February 12th 2021. 

The current Australian Prime Minister, The Hon. Anthony Albanese, made his government's position clear during campaigning in 2021 - see below. However, since the Federal government negotiated the end of a court appeal launched by Asset Energy when it was discovered former PM Scott Morrison had rejected the application while exercising one of his 'extra' portfolios, the Prime Minister has stated that PEP-11 is a matter of regulatory procedure.

The project is now before the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) and will go to a joint approval panel made up of Federal and State resource Ministers Madeleine King and Courtney Houssos. The Federal government maintains a power of veto.

Should the Mineral Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Associated Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023 pass and approval again be granted to the proponents, building any infrastructure adjacent to NSW  coastal water to forward the project will become problematic 

“For many years, a blame game has ensued between State and Federal, Liberal and Labor. But, my community of Pittwater nor do any other communities care who or what is responsible for the lack of action in stopping PEP-11. They don’t care if the Government is Labor or the Opposition is Liberal. They simply want action, and action is what this Bill will deliver once its law,” Mr Amon said last week. 

For years, the planned exploration and possible mining has attracted strong State-wide opposition. 

“Pittwater is just one of many coastal electorates who hold deep concerns about the environmental impact of mining and exploration off our shore,” Mr Amon said. 

“I made clear prior to the election that this would be a priority of mine, and I am pleased that this is one of my first actions as the Member for Pittwater. This is a strong demonstration that the Coalition will continue to stand up for our communities, and the people of NSW, and act when the Labor Government fails to do so.” 

On June 22nd Manly MP James Griffin said; ''This Bill improves upon the former Liberal Government policy and delivers on our election commitment.

This issue has bipartisan support and so I am of the view that it will be successful through the Parliament as Independent, Labor and Greens share our view.

Hopefully it will proceed to a vote in the coming weeks.''

To help tackle beach erosion, the proposed legislation will continue to allow mineral exploration or mining in NSW waters for beach nourishment where a clear public benefit can be demonstrated.