A bill will be introduced to NSW Parliament to extinguish 'zombie' Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs), following concerns of a return to widespread Coal Seam Gas exploration in the North West region.
On Thursday, Independent NSW MLC Justin Field gave notice of legislation to extinguish the 12 zombie PELs, which cover more than 55,000 square kilometres between the Upper Hunter and Queensland border, including the Moree Plains Shire.
The bill follows the conditional approval of the Santos Narrabri Gas Project and the public announcements by licence holders that they intend to pursue the renewal of expired licences and recommence exploration across the region.
Mr Field said he hoped the bill would give certainty to communities who have been living for years under the threat of a return of coal seam gas exploration, including on some of the most productive agricultural land in NSW.
"These expired and unused exploration licences have been hanging over the heads of communities for too long and the government should give communities certainty about their future and cancel these licences," Mr Field said.
"The Government acted in 2014 and 2015 to revoke licenses across the Sydney Basin and NSW Coast but left these 12 licences in place.
"This bill is an opportunity to address the community concerns across the North West about the impact on farmland and water from a return to widespread CSG exploration across the region."
Last week NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall called for companies to relinquish the zombie PELs that cover the Moree Plains.
Mr Field called on Mr Marshall and the rest of the National Party to get behind this legislation.
"The NSW Nationals' Agriculture Minister has recognised that it is totally unacceptable to industrialise the North West of the state with a gas industry," Mr Field said.
"I call on him and the rest of the National Party to get behind legislation that can protect communities and the agricultural values of the region from the coal seam gas industry.
"The return to gas exploration has the potential to unleash a new wave of community anger about this industry and the parliament should act to ensure these communities don't have to live with another decade of uncertainty about their future."
National Party members voted to have these licences extinguished last year, however there has been no move to act on the motion and extinguish these PELs until now.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW has welcomed Mr Field's bill.
"Adam Marshall has certainly talked the talk, so we're now calling on him and his NSW National colleagues in government to walk the walk," Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said.
"While we welcome statements from some National Party members about getting rid of these CSG licences, their comments are woefully late, given precious groundwater including Great Artesian Basin recharge has now been put at risk with the approval of the Narrabri gasfield.
"By supporting the Narrabri gasfield, the government has placed the groundwater farmers rely on at perilous threat.
"That's why Lock the Gate Alliance will continue to stand in solidarity with Traditional Owners, farmers, and the wider community who are fighting Santos' barbaric gasfield proposal.
"Having failed to stop the gasfield's approval, National Party members can at least now keep faith with their own membership and support Justin Field's Bill to kill the zombie CSG licences."