The State Government has delayed debate on a Private Members Bill to extinguish so-called zombie petroleum licences until after the Upper Hunter byelection.
In a move described as a "political dodge", the government referred the Bill, moved by Independent Justin Field, to a committee for review, thereby delaying debate and a decision for potentially another three months.
The expired but not extinguished petroleum tenements are dotted across more than 55,000 square kilometres of the state's north west, including large parts of the Upper Hunter.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro recently said the government would extinguish some but not all of the so-called "zombie" petroleum licences.
"When I do release the gas strategy, and hopefully not too far off, I'm going to use that at the same time to extinguish a number of PELS across the state. I believe a number of those are not economically or environmentally viable," he said.
Mr Field accused the National Party of running scared following Tuesday's delay.
"You would think if they wanted the community to know their position on these licences they would have gladly welcomed the debate," he said.
"For all the words from various Nationals Ministers and MPs claiming they want these PELs dealt with, what does it say that they are now hiding behind an inquiry to avoid the party putting a formal position on the Parliamentary record?"
The parliamentary review committee has until August 12 to report back, however, landholders and environmentalists argue the extra delay will increase uncertainty and stress in the affected communities.
"According to the government's own use-it-or-lose it policy, these licences should have already been extinguished," Mullaley farmer Margaret Fleck, whose beef property is affected by one of the expired PELs said,
"Our communities have been writing to the government and asking them to give us certainty and protection by cancelling these licences for years and we never get a straight answer.
"It's bitterly disappointing that instead of coming to a decision to support Mr Field's Bill, the Government has dodged this issue again."
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the Government's stalling tactic came at the expense of farming and rural communities seeking certainty for investment.
The Deputy Premier doesn't need to wait for a committee, or for special legislation. He doesn't need to wait until after the byelection," Ms Woods said.
"He can give the community what it has been demanding and extinguish these zombie gas licences today, and that's what we're strongly urging him to do."
Upper Hunter independent byelection candidate Tracy Norman said she supported Mr Field's bill.
"There is both an environmental imperative as well as an economic one to cancel these expired licenses. We need to protect our highly productive farmland and clean waterways," Ms Norman said.
"By taking this action we can provide investment and growth certainty to our farmers, horse breeders, tourism and other businesses."