February 27, 2024

The controversial Pep-11 project would be killed off along with all offshore gas and mineral exploration projects in waters off New South Wales under new laws proposed by the state government.

Penny Sharpe, the NSW environment minister, on Monday announced the Minns government had listened to concerned community members and would prioritise protecting the environment.

The legislation is expected to be supported by the opposition, who last year introduced legislation also aimed at stopping the long-troubled Pep-11 gas exploration licence.

“We know an overwhelming majority of people in NSW do not support offshore mining,” Sharpe said.

“The passage of this bill will give certainty that our government is prioritising environmental protection and our own local interests.

“This bill is a sensible amendment to our legislation to protect NSW against the risks of offshore mining.”

Petroleum Exploration Permit 11, known as Pep-11, is a petroleum exploration area about 50km off the NSW coastline between Newcastle and Wollongong.

The project prompted widespread opposition from coastal communities and residents of Sydney’s northern beaches.

According to the Minns government, the legislation is designed to stop the most severe environmental impacts that can result from offshore exploration including oil spills and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Central Coast minister, David Harris, said the legislation was in the state’s “best interest”.

“This is something our communities have long campaigned for and it is great to see it come to fruition,” he said.

While the NSW opposition supports the banning of the Pep-11 project, it has criticised the government for not supporting its own bill to prevent offshore exploration and mining.

The opposition environment spokesperson, Kellie Sloane, accused the government of being “forced” to legislate the Coalition’s policy in what she claimed was an “embarrassing backdown”.

“After denying the opposition an opportunity to progress a bill dealing with Pep-11, it appears that Labor has just copied our homework,” she said.

“We will review the new bill and consider whether any amendments are needed.”

Last year the federal government and Asset Energy agreed to void the former prime minister Scott Morrison’s decision to block further exploration of the gas field, before it played out in court.

In 2021, Morrison announced the federal government would reject a two-year extension of the exploratory drilling licence.

It was later revealed he had done so by swearing himself in as resources minister to get around the then resource minister Keith Pitt’s plan to extend the licence.

Asset Energy then launched a federal court challenge in the wake of the scandal surrounding Morrison’s multiple secret ministerial portfolios.

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