Oil and gas seismic testing opponents will rally at Nobbys Beach on March 18

OPPONENTS of seismic testing off the Newcastle coast will rally on Sunday after the Federal Government expanded an oil and gas exploration permit despite NSW Government objections.

Asset Energy can resume testing an area between North Sydney and Newcastle from March 15 until May 31 despite concerns about the possibility of testing coinciding with the start of the annual whale migration up the NSW coastline.

NSW resources minister Don Harwin told NSW Parliament in February that the state opposed extending the exploration program for reasons including “very significant issues in relation to marine life”, but the federal government had “overruled my recommendation”, he said in later comments.

Asset's permit allows the company to fire a sonic gun over 208 kilometres of lines in its exploration zone. Seismic testing for possible oil and gas deposits involves continuous underwater airgun blasts every 3 to 10 seconds for 24 hours continuously for three to four days.

Serious concerns have been raised about the impact of seismic testing on marine life, including whales, dolphins, turtles and fish, after research around the globe showing negatives impacts on animals even five kilometres from testing sites.

The exploration was approved by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

Critics including NSW Greens MP Justin Field said the federal government regulatory process allowed testing without public consultation or publishing of an environmental impact statement. Australia is the only OECD country that does not require public consultation for such approvals.

The group Stop Seismic Testing Newcastle will hold a rally at Nobbys Beach at 1pm on March 18 as part of a national push to force the Turnbull Government to tighten regulations on offshore oil and gas exploration.

Group spokesperson Natasha Deen said fishermen had reported hauls of dead and decaying fish and decreased catches after previous seismic testing off Newcastle, and the world-renowned whale and dolphin area was at risk.