NSW Parliament calls for Asset Energy's exploration licence to be suspended

A satellite image of PEP11, off the coast of Newcastle, where seismic testing will take place as part of gas exploration.
A satellite image of PEP11, off the coast of Newcastle, where seismic testing will take place as part of gas exploration.

NSW Parliament is calling for the Turnbull government to suspend a petroleum exploration licence for an area off the coast of Newcastle where seismic testing has recently taken place.

But the firm searching for gas has rejected the motion, saying parliament hasn’t considered the evidence.

Asset Energy spokesman Toby Foster said the company had proven it could operate through “evolving” regulatory framework over several years and believed its projects had done no harm to the environment.

The NSW upper house passed a motion on Tuesday that called for a halt to Asset Energy’s exploration in the PEP11 licence area until concerns about the regulatory process had been addressed.

It came after the state’s Liberal resources minister Don Harwin said in February he was concerned that seismic testing had been approved about 30km off the coast of Newcastle.

The testing took place last month, despite public backlash sparked by fears about the possible effect on the marine environment.

Asset Energy has left the door open to return for more tests and drilling if gas is found under the ocean floor.

Greens MP Justin Field said the federal government should suspend Asset Energy’s licence.

Hundreds of people gathered at Nobbys Beach on March 18 to protest against a plan for seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Hundreds of people gathered at Nobbys Beach on March 18 to protest against a plan for seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“Seismic testing off the coast of Newcastle caught the community by surprise but they’re now united in demanding no oil or gas fields off the NSW coast,” he said.

“Imagine sitting on the iconic Nobby’s Beach and looking beyond the waves at oil rigs, or the massive risk of a spill off Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

“The New Zealand government recently announced a ban on new oil and gas exploration in its waters. The federal government should follow its example and do the same here.”

Mr Foster said Asset Energy was “vigorously pursuing” exploration of PEP11 because there was “excellent potential for the discovery of significant commercial quantities of natural gas”, which could support the gas needs of 300,000 manufacturing jobs, one million households and 33,000 businesses across the state.

“Asset Energy has demonstrated in its exploration off the coast of NSW that it can operate safely and within the evolving state and federal regulatory frameworks since it first acquired an interest in PEP11 in 2006,” he said.

“No safety nor environmental incidences have occurred in these operations and therefore the NSW Legislative Council’s motion does not appear to have considered the evidence available.”

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