Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall has called for 'zombie' Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) in the Moree Plains Shire to be relinquished, saying there's no need for them now that the Narrabri Gas Project has been approved.
Last week, a day after the Narrabri Gas Project was granted conditional approval by the Independent Planning Commission, gas company Comet Ridge signalled its intent to resume gas exploration across the Moree Plains Shire.
Santos and Comet Ridge have applied to renew the three PELs they jointly own, which cover parts of the Moree Plains Shire.
Mr Marshall has written to the CEOs of both Santos and Comet Ridge, "imploring" them to relinquish those PELs which he says are now redundant.
"These three PELS have sat dormant across the landscape of Moree Plains Shire for more than a decade now," he said.
"Now is the time to remove that uncertainty and those companies, in light of the approval for the Narrabri Gas Project, should voluntarily relinquish those PELs because they are redundant.
"They're called zombie PELs for a reason because there's been no activity in them for the last decade."
Zombie PELs are petroleum licences that have expired, but have not been formally extinguished by the NSW government. There are 12 of these licences that stretch across 56,000 square kilometres between the Queensland border, Dubbo, Moree, the Warrumbungles and the Upper Hunter.
While there is a chance that the state government could approve the renewal of the PELs, Mr Marshall argued that if the companies were genuine about exploring gas in the Moree Plains Shire, they would have done it by now.
"They've had 10 years - how long should that piece of string be?" he questioned.
"They haven't exercised their rights in those PELs and in my view they've forfeited their right to have continuing access to them.
"And besides, why would they after the Narrabri project has got approval, want to do more exploration? If they wanted to, they would have already done it."
Mr Marshall said it's not about being pro or anti-gas but the fact that now that the Narrabri Gas Project has been approved, the PELs are redundant.
"There's no prospect of them being utilised anyway, because Narrabri will provide more than enough gas for everyone for ever and ever," he said.
"So let's just get rid of them, remove the uncertainty and allow people to get on with their lives."
If Santos and Comet Ridge refuse to relinquish the PELs voluntarily, Mr Marshall has threatened that he will request that the state government use its powers to extinguish the zombie PELs.
National Party members voted to have these licences extinguished last year, yet the NSW government failed to act, meaning the licences can be re-activated.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said the Berejiklian-Barilaro government should have stamped out these licences long ago.
"These companies have sat on these licences for years, creating uncertainty for farmers and communities who just want to get on with their lives without the threat of destructive CSG hanging over their heads," she said.
"Many of these companies have failed to comply with NSW law by simply sitting on these licences and doing nothing with them for so many years, so the government has every opportunity to cancel them and give farming communities some certainty.
"Local members representing these farming communities should listen to the concerns of their constituents and ensure the government permanently slays these zombie licences."