A controversial oil and gas exploration project off Australia’s east coast, that could see drilling rigs dotting the horizon off Sydney and Newcastle, would be a threat to the diverse sealife inhabiting the 4,576-square-kilometre permit critics say.
As 100 countries in the United Nations called for a commitment to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030, the federal government is yet to decide on extending Advent Energy’s drilling rights in the Offshore Sydney Basin, through which several species of whale and other marine life migrate.
Local resident, Phil Nicotra, an environmentalist and volunteer with Operation Straw, believes “this cannot be seen as anything short of a poor long-term decision”.
“Historically marine based oil drilling projects have seen the destruction of many natural environments,” he told Central News. “At a time in history when our oceans, the heart of a healthy planet, need no further environmental pressures placed upon them and the rest of the world are transitioning towards renewable energy sources, this cannot be seen as anything short of a poor long-term decision.”
Between May to November every year, huge numbers of whales pass Sydney during their northward and southbound return migrations along the east coast.
Offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction through PEP11 would have dire consequences for NSW’s coastal businesses, communities, ecosystems and climate.
The baleen (strainer-mouthed) species include Bryde’s, fin, humpback, minke, right and sei whales. Recently, blue whales have been spotted from the Sydney shoreline for the first time in decades. Toothed whales include southern bottlenose, pilot, melon-headed, sperm and seven ‘beaked’ species.
Around 10 species of non-migratory dolphins and their larger cousins, the orcas (including pygmy and false killer whales), are also seen in the marine environs along Sydney’s coast.
With locals anxiously waiting for federal Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt’s decision, many believe politicians have a duty of care to not only their constituents but the environment as well.
“In an ideal world you would hope that any person committing to a position of political power should put the interests and benefit of people and planet before their own,” said Nicotra. “However, the nature of politics and the allure or power can tend to attract people whose views do not align with the ideals of selflessness.”
Any potential leak from the site would have serious and potentially devastating consequences on marine life and habitats, in addition to impacting fishing, tourism, and hospitality industries.
Several state and federal MPs have come out against the project, including Jason Falinski MP, Lucy Wicks MP, Dave Sharma MP and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and the federal Labor party.
Northern Beaches MP Zali Steggall introduced the Stopping PEP11 Bill on August 8, which states that “offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction through PEP11 would have dire consequences for NSW’s coastal businesses, communities, ecosystems and climate”.
Ms Steggall’s bill, which has the support of locals including former surfing champion Layne Beachley and members of the Surfrider Foundation, seeks to ensure that if the Joint Authority rejects the requested extension to the PEP11 licence, they cannot resurrect it in the future. This would prevent the granting of revised PEPs, and revoke permission to install drilling rigs and infrastructure, denying other companies and their investors the opportunity to return and exploit the region’s gas and oil in the future.
“The coastline around PEP 11 is home to millions of Australians, whose lifestyle and livelihood relies on a healthy ocean,” Steggall said. “We need to stop the push for gas production off our coast.
“PEP11 is the Morrison Government’s ‘gas-led recovery’ in action. It opens the door to oil and gas rigs just offshore from our iconic beaches.”
In Byron this morning supporting the big paddle out to stop PEP 11. There is no justification for drilling off our coasts for fossil fuels. Our future is renewable energy not coal or gas @Surfrider #saveourcoast pic.twitter.com/DQhUntGYKX
— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) May 8, 2021
Last week during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York 100 countries committed to the ’30 by 30′ oceans pact to “help halt and reverse biodiversity loss and enhance climate change resilience” as one of 21 “action targets” under negotiation for inclusion in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is negotiating a new 10-year strategy, while, the Pew Charitable Trusts said a total of $6 billion, including $1 billion by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, was pledged by companies during the assembly last week to help save critical ecosystems.
PEP11, first granted in 1999, actually expired in Feb 2021, but is still in force and overseen by the Joint Authority – the state and commonwealth ministers who preside over administration of exploration licenses.
Advent is pushing ahead with a focused seismic campaign around a key potential drilling prospect in PEP11.
The Joint Authority, which includes Keith Pitt, is delaying its decision while they consider whether to extend the PEP11 license by two years, as requested by the permit holders.
Advent Energy contends there is potentially 5.9 trillion cubic feet of gas beneath the seabed, which would roughly equate to 60 years domestic supply.
The company owns 85 per cent of the PEP11 joint venture, while ASX-listed Bounty Oil and Gas owns the remaining 15 per cent.
According to Advent’s investee BPH Energy: “The NSW onshore gas industry is in turmoil and gas reserves are declining in the Bass Strait and Cooper Basin. The east coast gas prices have recently hit staggering prices … Advent is pushing ahead with a focused seismic campaign around a key potential drilling prospect in PEP11, in the offshore Sydney Basin.”
Main image by Michael Ryan. Whale photo by Robbie Shade/Flickr.