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Just How Dead is PEP11?

PEP11

PEP11

The controversial gas development was declared dead back in December. So why is it still “pending”?

You all saw the announcement, right?

Back before Christmas, the Prime Minister called a press conference at Terrigal Surf Club and announced that he would personally ensure that Petroleum Exploration Permit 11, stretching off the coast between Sydney and Newcastle, “will not proceed on our watch.”

“The reason why we’re here today,” he said, “is to announce, that after careful consideration, the government has taken, through my own decision, the first step to formally reject an application for the petroleum export permit, known as PEP11.”

The announcement was met with joy by campaign groups (and Patagonia environmental grantees) like Surfrider Australia, Save Our Coast, and Surfers For Climate who’d fought for years against the proposed offshore gas field, which would, if it had gone ahead, been the first off the Australian east coast.

But the government’s PEP11 commitment was also taken with a grain of salt. The announcement was made with a federal election looming, in one of the most marginal seats in the country. At the same press conference the Prime Minister announced PEP11 was dead, he seamlessly pivoted to also announce a $235 million commitment from the government to open up new gas in the Beetaloo, Galilee and North Bowen Basins.

In the two months since there has been precious little news on how that process is going… or even what that process entails.

The key phrase in Morrison’s announcement that day was that this was “the first step to formally reject” the project. The announcement only started the process to shut down PEP11. In the two months since there has been precious little news on how that process is going… or even what that process entails.

The NOPTA (National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator) approval portal still lists the PEP11 permit as a “pending application”. Up until yesterday the application remained at the “Joint Authority for Decision” stage, where it had been for the past 412 days. The joint authority effectively means it was still sitting on Resource Minister Keith Pitt’s desk, where it had been all of last year.

On February 2, Surfrider Australia posted, asking: ‘It’s now been 48 days since Scott Morrison made the announcement that PEP11 was dead in the water, that a formal decision to stop the PEP11 project would be “imminent, certainly by the end of January and hopefully before then.’ Can someone please tell us what’s really happening with PEP11?” Surfrider then wrote to government MPs with PEP11 electorates asking for clarification, but as yet have not received an answer.

The only news of any description has come from the companies themselves. On February 1, BPH Energy notified the market that they’d received official notification from NOPTA that their permit had been refused, and that they had “lodged a submission seeking a review of this decision.” Again, there is no timeline offered by anyone about how long this process will take… nor any information about the review process itself.

Meanwhile the election gets nearer, the whole saga drags on, and the public is no clearer on exactly how “dead” PEP 11 really is.

It was announced in December last year that the coast off Sydney was safe from offshore oil and gas development, so why is the PEP11 permit still hanging around? Photo Murray Fraser

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