Deputy Premier John Barilaro has today made public his disapproval of any renewal of a petroleum exploration permit (known as PEP11) off the Northern Beaches and central coastline. He advised this in a letter to the Federal minister who would be responsible for approving the permit, Keith Pitt. The minister was seeking his Mr Barilao’s recommendation for the project as Minister for Industry.
Asked during a parliamentary door stop interview last week if Mr Pitt would approve the permit, he replied:
“Well, PEP 11 has an exploration permit application to the joint authority, that joint authority is myself and the New South Wales Minister, John Barilaro. I am waiting on Mr Barilaro’s advice as the other joint decision maker.” (Ed’s note: A full transcript of this doorstop interview as at the end of the article).
Ultimately this is a federal decision, but one that does not have the support of Federal MP and Mackellar MP Jason Falinski nor Warringah MP Zali Steggall.
BPH energy applied for an extension to its offshore gas exploration permit for two years, which would allow it to drill in search of gas reserves. The consortium has reportedly already spent $25 million looking for gas in the region.
The licence covers an area as far south as Manly but 30 kilometres offshore (beyond the horizon line). There have been numerous community protests citing concern for environmental damage and potential environmental disaster.
Keith Pitt, who is he federal resources minister, has so far played down any environmental impact from an exploratory gas well and has said any decision he makes will be “in the national interest”.
Doorstop interview with Resources Minister Keith Pitt
QUESTION: That licence covers a large area – from the central coast all the way down to Sydney Harbour. Does that need to be reduced down?
KEITH PITT: Oh, well, that is the size of the exploration permit which is being applied for. And fundamentally, this is a needle on a football field. So, I think we need to keep some perspective. It’s more than 30 kilometres offshore. It’s something which has been tested back in around 2010 unsuccessfully, they didn’t find any gas in that last exploration permit. But in Australia, companies are able to put up an application and work their way through a known process and get a result.
QUESTION: But there’s no- they didn’t find gas then, then there’s a good chance they won’t find gas there now. So, what’s the point in renewing it?
KEITH PITT: Well, as you’ve said, it’s a very large area. Companies make their own decisions based on risk and where they invest their finances. Exploration is an important part of growth for the resources sector. That’s why we committed another $125 million to exploring for the future. It means that we will have options into the future for onshore gas and of course, resources and water. It’s a big part of our economy and we want to continue with those jobs.
QUESTION: Not everyone in the coalition is happy to have this; a few Liberal MPs who are disappointed and also not happy with the renewal of the- for the proposal that the licence will be renewed. What do you say to that?
KEITH PITT: Well, the same that I’ve said to them publicly and privately, they’re entitled to their view, the job is to represent their community, and I accept that completely.
QUESTION: And how does gas drilling fit in with the net-zero emissions?
KEITH PITT: Well, gas will be an important part of our recovery. Minister Taylor is doing a good job in terms of emissions reduction. We have a technology road map, we have a plan to get to 2030, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
QUESTION: To clarify though, you have not made a decision yet on this?
KEITH PITT: As I’ve said, Minister Barilaro is the joint decision making authority. He will put forward New South Wales view. Based on that advice, plus my own, and of course the world class regulator in NOPSEMA, we’ll make a decision.
QUESTION: What safety conditions are put in about – regarding pollution? And things like that when they’re drilling?
KEITH PITT: Well, there is extensive regulatory requirements. They have to put forward an environmental plan, a safety plan, clearly what they intend to do in terms of spending money in the development. This is a normal part of the regulatory process, it’s been in place for a long time, it’s incredibly strong. NOPSEMA’s recognised around the world as a world leading regulator, and we’ll continue to support the industry on that basis.
QUESTION: And your personal thoughts? Should it go ahead?
KEITH PITT: Well, I’m the Minister for Resources. I’ll make decisions as all ministers should, based on the advice that I’m provided.
QUESTION: This is dubbed the way or the highway. What impact would that have on your decision making as well?
KEITH PITT: Well, I’ll argue that; the way of the highway is at Hervey Bay. In my electorate, if you’re looking for somewhere to come on holidays, come up in the whale’s season – they’re in the Hervey Bay.
QUESTION: [Talks over] They don’t stay there though, Minister.
KEITH PITT: Well, they do stay in Hervey Bay, that’s where they stop for a rest – it’s a great spot. Of course, we look to ensure that the environment is protected, that’s why we have such strong regulations. That’s why we have the regulator in NOPSEMA in place. We have had an industry for more than five decades, it’s been incredibly successful. In fact, Victoria for example, its manufacturing industry is built off the back of cheap gas out of the Bass Strait and elsewhere. We want to continue to drive our economy, but we’ll do it in a way which is balanced.
QUESTION: Would you be comfortable with an oil company applying for a license to drill off Hervey Bay then?
KEITH PITT: Clearly, there are restrictions as to where the exploration can occur. There is the protections in marine parks, for example. Once again, we’ll make a balanced decision based on the advice that’s provided. Very good, thank you.