The Lower Hunter's coal seam gas reserves appear to be off limits to potential exploration and extraction following the expiration of a petroleum exploration licence that covered the region.
The state government confirmed this week that the contentious Petroleum Exploration Licence 458, which took in a 2000-square hectare area bounded by Lake Macquarie, Hawks Nest and Maitland, expired in mid-2016 and had not been renewed.
"The government does not own the title, it does not exist in any shape or form," a spokeswoman said.
News that the licence no longer existed came as a surprise to Fullerton Cove residents who have been anticipating a revival of interest in a coal seam gas reserve under their properties, which is estimated to be worth a billion dollars.
The village became the site of one of the state's fiercest coal seam gas battlegrounds in 2012 when residents led a nine-day blockage against Dart Energy's plans to construct a gasfield nearby.
The company eventually abandoned its plans for the project, blaming the introduction of two-kilometre exclusion zones near homes as its reason for leaving.
While the pilot wells were eventually capped and sealed, resident Lindsay Clout said the wells have continued to attract interest from unidentified visitors.
There has also been a report of a helicopter apparently doing surveillance work in the area.
The federal government's gas-led recovery strategy has heightened concern about a resurgence in coal seam gas activity.
"It's hard to believe with 1400 billion cubic feet of gas down there that someone isn't trying to figure out a way to get to it," Mr Clout said.
While PEL 458 has been permanently extinguished, there are an estimated 56,000 square kilometers of so-called 'zombie' gas licences stretching across the Upper Hunter and north west of the state.
- Licences cancelled in CSG permit buyback
- Flare-up over gas "While other communities closer to the coast have been spared the destruction coal seam gas brings, with old licenses there permanently extinguished years ago, the communities of the Upper Hunter and north west have been treated like second class citizens," Lock the Gate spokeswoman Georgina Woods said.
"For too long, farmers in the north west whose land is covered by coal seam gas exploration licences have been unable to properly plan for the future due to these exploration licences hanging over their heads."
"The Nationals are part of the government. The party passed a motion to wind up the zombie licences more than a year ago, so affected farmers and communities are understandably outraged that as yet, there has been no action."
"We call on Deputy Premier John Barilaro and his fellow Nationals MPs to finally enact the party's pledge to slay these zombie titles and put to ease the concerns of many farmers and communities throughout the north west."
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