Hundreds of people rallied in Civic Park to send a message that the coastline of Newcastle and NSW is off-limits to fossil fuel extraction.
The federal government’s Department of Industry and Innovative Science hosted a roundtable forum at Newcastle City Hall last week, alongside the regulator responsible for the approval of offshore oil and gas, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
The meeting outlined seismic testing, the oil and gas exploration process, and oil spill modelling for Newcastle, Central Coast and Port Stephens councils, before a separate community drop-in session took place in the afternoon.
In April 2018, gas company Asset Energy conducted 2D seismic testing – airgun blasts into the ocean floor every few seconds continuously for days or weeks on end – near Newcastle.
It now plans to undergo more extensive, 3D seismic surveys over about 500 square kilometres to create an image of what is underneath and potentially find the best drilling targets for an oil or gas field.
Some environmentalists and scientists claim seismic testing can injure and deafen marine life and cause damage to the ecosystem, while it also negatively affects fisheries and tourism industries.
Save Our Coast founder, Natasha Deen, says the community’s concerns have so far been ignored.
“This plan for seismic testing and offshore oil and gas is being imposed on us and our coast by the federal government without adequate community consultation and with apparent disregard of the councils’ and the state government’s opposition to this flawed plan,” she says.
“To continue to subject our marine animals to this torment, and our living ocean to this harm from seismic testing, is unconscionable.”
A NOPSEMA spokesperson stated the regulator was aware of Asset Energy’s intention to conduct further surveys.
However, it had not been advised of any timeframes.
“NOPSEMA’s assessment process commences once a titleholder submits an environment plan for proposed activity,” the spokesperson tells Newcastle Weekly.
In late 2017, federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, announced transparency reforms to the offshore regulatory approvals process.
This included the publication of environmental plans prior to their assessment by NOPSEMA, a public comment period, and the chance for interested parties to submit their concerns directly to NOPSEMA.
The reforms will be introduced later this year.
“While we have no timeframe on a possible further seismic survey to be conducted by Asset, should they submit their environment plan after the introduction of the reforms, then it would be subject to publication and a public comment period,” the NOPSEMA spokesperson adds.
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Adern banned new offshore oil and gas exploration last April, while, a year earlier, the Obama administration blocked seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean.
However, current US president Donald Trump granted permission for five companies to conduct testing off the country’s east coast in December.