The controversial Petroleum Exploration Permit number 11, known as PEP 11, which covers a stretch of NSW coastline from Manly to Newcastle to enable offshore exploration for natural gas, is potentially active again – despite it being cancelled in Autumn 2022.
This is because the Federal Labor Government has negotiated the end of a Court appeal by the principle proponents of the scheme, leaving it, in theory, open to be resubmitted. The matter was brought to court once it was discovered then Prime Minister Scott Morrison had sworn himself into the portfolio and rejected the application.
The new government is yet to state its position on the permit approval; it did not want an expensive court battle and agreed to ask the court to vacate the decision to reject it so it returns to the the joint decision makers (NSW Government and Federal Resource Minister).
The NSW Liberal Government has reiterated its rejection of the application, however ultimately the Commonwealth has the final word.
According to the Guardian, before he was elected, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Labor “will stop PEP 11 going ahead, full stop. Exclamation mark. No question. Not equivocal. No ifs, no buts.”
What is PEP 11?
The Petroleum Exploration Permit number 11 license covers a 4,575 square kilometres stretch of offshore marine territory from North Head, Manly, to Nobby’s Head in Newcastle, which a consortium of gas and oil companies had hoped to exploit.
However, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in December 2021 that he would revoke any renewal of the license and that was enforced the following year.
The principal permit holders of PEP 11 were Asset Energy Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of Advent Energy, an unlisted oil and gas company based in Perth, which is, in turn, owned by BPH Energy), which held an 85 per cent stake, and Bounty Oil & Gas NL, which held the remaining 15 per cent.
Although the NSW Government Deputy Premier, Paul Toole, had previously announced it would not proceed on 23 February 2022, and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared it “not right” on 16 December 2021, PEP11 was still listed as a “pending application” on the NOPTA approval portal, where it had been since its initial submission.
Asset Energy, which was told definitively on 4 April 2022 that its application to extend the PEP11 license by two years was rejected, then applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review.
The Commonwealth Government under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in on 23 May 2022, subsequently asked the Federal Court to vacate the legal action after discussions with Asset.
On 3 February 2023, a statement released by the new Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, said: “Parties agree to resolve Petroleum Export Permit 11 (PEP 11) litigation.
“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.”
The Federal Labor Government accepted that former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to revoke the PEP 11 was made after he secretly took over five government ministries, including that run by the serving Resources Minister Keith Pitt, who reportedly supported offshore gas exploration.
Coalition of the unwilling
Opposition to PEP 11 has been simmering for some time, particularly along the Northern Beaches, where a network of environmentalists and politicians united to challenge what they perceived to be a major threat to the whale migration route.
Since last week’s court announcement, which opens the door to the possibility that PEP-11 may be reactivated and extended, a coalition of politicians from across the spectrum have announced their intention to combat any possibility of its renewal.
The NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s said he had “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.”
Manly MP and NSW Minister for Environment, James Griffin, said he “wholeheartedly supports the Premier’s letter to the Prime Minister. It’s clear that coastal communities like ours will not stand for offshore drilling in NSW.”
Dr Sophie Scamps, Independent MP for Mackellar has joined other teal MPs and candidates across state and federal one expressing opposition to the permit.
“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.”
On 4 February, six Independent candidates for the forthcoming March 25 NSW State Election proposed a Parliamentary Bill to introduce legislation that would permanently halt PEP 11.
The six, Alex Greenwich MP (Member for Sydney) and new candidates Helen Conway (North Shore), Victoria Davidson (Lane Cove), Karen Freyer (Vaucluse), Joeline Hackman (Manly) and Jacqui Scruby (Pittwater), declared they would co-sponsor and vote for the Bill if elected.