Interview with ABC radio Newcastle

Paul Turton
PEP 11, oil and gas exploration, gas supply, NOPTA.

PAUL TURTON: Yesterday on the programme, we heard that Deputy Premier John Barilaro had written to Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt recommending that PEP 11 not be renewed. If you haven't been following this, the Petroleum Exploration Permit, that's where the PEP comes in PEP 11, is Advent Energy's plan to explore and potentially drill for gas off the coast of New South Wales. It's caused a fair bit of anxiety. In fact, I haven't heard a single community member say it's a good idea. Now, the final decision, of course, rests with Minister Pitt, and he's been good enough to come on Drive today and explain what he's thinking at the moment. Minister, thanks for doing that, by the way.

KEITH PITT: Oh, great to be with you. Great to be with your listeners.

PAUL TURTON: Have you made a decision yet? Are you going to extend Advent Energy's Petroleum Exploration Permit 11?

KEITH PITT: Oh, I know the ABC loves an exclusive, but no, that decision is not yet made. And I don't think any of your listeners would disagree that we should always make sure that we give full and detailed consideration to these types of applications. In Australia, there's very strong regulatory provisions for offshore exploration and development, and that's what I intend to do.

PAUL TURTON: Is it fair for me to say, as I did a moment ago, that there's no community support at all? I say I haven't heard any. What about the feedback you're getting?

KEITH PITT: Well, I mean, this is a permit which has been around for quite some time. In fact, an exploration well was last drilled in the region in 2010, approved under the former Labor Government, of course, by then Environment Minister Tony Burke. So it has been around. It's been successful. We have an offshore oil and gas industry that's been in place more than 50 years. And we've got very strong regulations in place. And once again, I'll give the proposal full and detailed consideration. And the decision I make is one which is in the national interest.

PAUL TURTON: Australia's already the world's largest exporter of gas. Why does the Government believe that we need more of it?

KEITH PITT: Well, the forecast in terms of domestic is that mid-term, we expect there will be some shortfall, and that's been forecast by AEMO and, of course, other areas. We have to continue exploration in particular. If you don't maintain your exploration, then down the track, you very clearly run out of product. If we look at the Bass Strait, which is a great example- I mean, Victoria's manufacturing sector was built off the back of the Bass Strait discovery. It's now in decline after probably 45, 50 years of development and delivery of oil and gas. It's been very, very strong for the Australian economy. It's been great for jobs. But we need to keep exploration up if we intend to continue to use it.

PAUL TURTON: Minister, does the New South Wales Deputy Premier's advice carry much sway with you?

KEITH PITT: Well, it is a joint authority. Mr Barilaro has provided that official advice about 1.30 yesterday. And of course, we'll consider it. But I am the final decision maker.

PAUL TURTON: Other politicians, both Liberal and Labor, don't want it, and communities from Manly to Newcastle have been very outspoken as well. How do you factor in the feedback that you get from communities and their local representatives?

KEITH PITT: Well, the decisions that I make are one ones which are based firstly on the advice from the regulator, which in this case is NOPTA. Secondly, on ensuring that the regulations that we have in place are obviously complied with. But in this country, if you are a company that wishes to operate, to develop, to do other activities, and you meet the criteria, well then there's a fair expectation that you are approved. So we will consider all of the elements that are included in the regulation, that are included in the advice from NOPTA that are included, of course, from the joint authority with Mr Barilaro. And obviously, I've been having discussions with, not only my colleagues, but others, around this exploration permit.

PAUL TURTON: What are the environmental risks from these exploration sites that you're aware of at this stage?

KEITH PITT: Well, once again, to get to the stage where there is actually exploration, the company or the proponent would need to put forward both a safety and environmental plan. That would need to be approved by NOPSEMA, which is the regulator for offshore oil and gas in this country, recognised as one of the world's best in terms of world leading practise. And it's been done safely right around the country for quite a long time. So offshore facilities have coexisted - and benefited, to be honest - local communities, providing jobs and other opportunities for many, many years. But once again, we need to make sure we make decisions in the national interest, that we continue to protect the marine environment, and we need a balanced approach.

PAUL TURTON: Bass Strait started with one gas rig. It's got 23 now. It kind of seems counterintuitive to see the east coast of New South Wales as, you know, fishing vessels driving around gas rigs. Is it impractical to have our east coast littered, literally, with these facilities?

KEITH PITT: I mean, this exploration area is over 4000 square kilometres. A well, if one is actually successful in terms of an exploration permit, is only the size of a dining table. I mean, I think we just need to have some perspective of what's been proposed. And right now, this is an extension of the exploration permit. It's not an approval for a rig or for exploration well.

PAUL TURTON: Minister, one of the seats where there's been a vocal complaint of the extension of PEP 11 is in the marginal seat of Robertson. Lucy Wicks holds the seat at the moment. There could be political ramifications from your decision. Is that something that you factor in?

KEITH PITT: Absolutely not. I mean, Lucy is a very strong representative for her community. She's made their views very clear, not only to me, but obviously publicly. And that's what I expect from a local member. I'm a local member up in Central Queensland. The people that send me to Canberra send me to fight for them, and so that's no surprise.

PAUL TURTON: And Minister, just finally, the timeline, how's it looking? Have you set yourself goals in regard to this decision?

KEITH PITT: Well, I'll be looking to make a decision in the near future. But obviously, it's not one which will be rushed. We will consider all of the information that's provided and make the right decisions in the interest of the nation.

PAUL TURTON: Minister Pitt, thank you so much for joining us.

KEITH PITT: It's great to be with you.

PAUL TURTON: There's the Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt speaking to us here on ABC Newcastle.