Resources minister blasts approval for seismic testing off Newcastle

CONCERNED: NSW Minister for Resources Don Harwin. Picture: Janie Barrett

CONCERNED: NSW Minister for Resources Don Harwin. Picture: Janie Barrett

NSW Minister for Resources Don Harwin has explicitly voiced his opposition to seismic drilling off Newcastle, arguing the federal guidelines that governed its approval were more lenient than state laws. 

Answering a question from the Greens’ Justin Field in the NSW Legislative Council on Thursday, Mr Harwin said he had told the federal ministers he stood against the project from the perspective of his portfolio. 

Mr Harwin said he wrote to the federal minister last year to express his opposition to Asset Energy’s expansion. It was approved early this year. 

“Even when the state is opposed to the renewal of a petroleum exploration permit, the federal government can override any objections … and renew the permit,” he said. 

“Our assessment and performance requirements at a state level for onshore are much, much more rigorous than the offshore requirements that the Commonwealth has in place.”

Mr Harwin revealed he had sought advice about potentially revoking the licence, but had been informed the state would need federal agreement.

“My advice is that the state cannot step in and revoke without the concurrence of the Commonwealth government,” he said. 

“There is a strong case for creating consistency between the two so that it will be a more appropriate framework.”

The federal National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority approved Asset’s plan, allowing the company to use sonic underwater blasts into the ocean floor to seek out deposits of natural gas roughly 30 kilometres off Newcastle. 

A study funded by the Fisheries Research Development Corporation, published in December, found that seismic testing could have long-term impacts on the health of wildlife, leading to a call from the Greens for an inquiry on how wildlife would deal with the testing.

NSW Greens MP Justin Field invited the state government to join opposition to the project. 

“I’m calling on the NSW Government to join with the community and campaign to oppose this project,” he said. “There is no place for oil and gas development along the NSW coast.”