'Zombie PELs' could rise from the dead when new gas policy announced: Deputy Premier

ZOMBIES RETURN: Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Narrabri Mayor Ron Campbell announced the town would get new infastructure upgrades after a gas project was approved. Photo: Peter Hardin
ZOMBIES RETURN: Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Narrabri Mayor Ron Campbell announced the town would get new infastructure upgrades after a gas project was approved. Photo: Peter Hardin

The Deputy Premier has signalled that some - but not all - of the dozen 'zombie' licences to mine gas in a vast area in north western NSW will be extinguished by the state government.

Expired petroleum export licences (PELs) cover an area of 56,000 kilometres, stretching from the Upper Hunter to the Queensland border.

Some have lay dormant for a decade without mining works.

Farmers and green groups have demanded government slay the 'zombie PELs' after the approval of the $3.6bn Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga.

On Tuesday John Barilaro, both Deputy Premier and Minister for Industry, said he would address the issue in a "future of gas statement" issued mid-way through 2021, but implied only some would be extinguished.

He said the new gas statement would be similar to the June Strategic Statement on Coal Exploration and Mining.

The 'zombie PELs' cover a large region from the Upper Hunter to the border.

The 'zombie PELs' cover a large region from the Upper Hunter to the border.

The earlier policy mapped no-go areas where coal mining and exploration would be prohibited, and areas it could be approved.

"I'm going to do exactly the same in the middle of next year in relation to gas. We'll identify the areas where we think it's appropriate, where we know it stacks up and then we'll actually work to removing those other PELs," Mr Barilaro said on Tuesday.

"What that looks like, over the next six months I'll let you know."

One day after the September approval of the 850-well Narrabri Gas Project, gas company Comet Ridge signalled an intent to resume gas exploration in its PELs. The company, which is in a joint venture with Santos, also applied to renew the three PELs they jointly own.

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Liverpool Plains farmer Margaret Fleck said hundreds, if not thousands of other landholders across the region were dreading the resurrection of the zombie PELs. Her land is covered by PEL 12, owned by Carbon Minerals.

"It is just a risk to everyone's businesses of contamination and depletion of groundwater. It doesn't matter if you're a beef producer or a dryland cropper, everyone relies on the water beneath our feet," she said.

She said many farmers were concerned the Narrabri Gas project "is the trojan horse for future gas projects" across the region.

In October Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall wrote to the CEOs of both Santos and Comet Ridge demanding they voluntarily relinquish their approvals, which cover parts of his electorate.

"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 in October.

Asked whether the Narrabri project would be enough for everyone, Mr Barilaro disagreed.

"There are other PELs around," he said.

"Right not we're at the start of this journey.

"We have a gas sector now and we want to make sure we maximise it for the best opportunity for regional and rural NSW."

In January, the NSW government committed to producing 70 petajoules of gas a year in return for $3 billion from the Commonwealth government. It's the same amount that is expected to come out of the Narrabri Gas Project every year.

The comments came after the Deputy Premier announced the state would plan an enormous special activation precinct in Narrabri while standing outside the Santos-owned, gas-fired Wilga Park power station outside the town.

The $3.6bn Santos mining project won Commonwealth approval on Tuesday.

Legislation to extinguish all of the zombie PELs sponsored by Independent MLC Justin Field is expected to hit parliament in 2021.

This story 'Zombie' gas licences could rise from the dead: Deputy Premier first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.