Environment

NSW riled by lack of ‘fit and proper’ test for offshore gas venture

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"That is one of the reasons why as Minister for Resources I have not been giving my support to the seismic testing that is taking place off the NSW coast at present," he said.

However, his federal counterpart, Matt Canavan said he rejected "the assertion that the Commonwealth offshore oil and gas regime is less stringent than in NSW".

He said the NSW government had not raised concerns about Asset Energy being "fit and proper".

"Before a title is granted to any company to explore in offshore Commonwealth waters, the applicant is subject to a rigorous assessment by the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA)," Senator Canavan said.

"This includes a detailed assessment of the proposed work program, and the technical and financial capability of the company, as well as its past performance," he said, adding that the expertise and capacity of a title-holder to meet its environmental plan obligations was also considered.

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Fairfax Media sought comment from MEC. Earlier this month, MEC informed the ASX of the writ of summons it had received in Western Australia. Another release indicates the claims – which MEC labelled "frivolous" – amount to more than $430,000.

MEC has said its seismic survey would cover about 12.25 square kilometres, and involve the firing of a sonic gun over 208 kilometres of lines. The testing should be completed in three or four days.

Council opposition

John Mackenzie, a Newcastle City councillor, said the council had voted unanimously in February to oppose the testing.

The lack of a "fit and proper person" requirement for approving offshore mining exploration and development meant the Commonwealth regulations were "way out of step with community expectations".

Mr Mackenzie noted the offshore exploration licence extended from Port Stephens all the way down to Wollongong. Given the presence of coal under much of the onshore region, it was likely fossil fuels would also be found in much of the region of the coast, he said.

The whale migration season is not far off starting along the NSW coast.

Photo: Jonas Liebschner, www.whalewatchingsydney.com.au

Given the area hosts tourism and fishing, and in the path of whale migration – which will soon begin – there "really aren't any" circumstances that the development of oil and gas reserves could proceed, Mr Mackenzie said.

'Cowboys'

“We dont want cowboy companies searching for a quick buck damaging marine life and productive fishing grounds," Mr Buckingham told Fairfax Media.

“The idea of sitting on a beach and seeing oil rigs on the horizon, or dead whales and dolphins washing up would be offensive to Australians," he said, noting New Zealand had this week opted to ban further development of offshore oil and gas.

"We dont need new fossil fuels in an age of climate change and the government should protect our coastline from this industry.”

Mr Harwin's office said he had nothing to add to Wednesday's comments in Parliament.

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Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.

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