The Federal Government appears unable to make a determination on a contentious application to extend a gas exploration licence off the Hunter coast, at the same time as it has opened up bidding for exploratory drilling rights across 80,000 square kilometres of Commonwealth waters.
Advent Energy is seeking a two year extension of Petroleum Exploration Permit 11, which allows it to explore for gas in a 4500 square kilometre area between Newcastle and Sydney.
When the company's licence expired four months ago Resources Minister Kieth Pitt said he was keen to determine the renewal application 'soon'.
However, a spokesman for Mr Pitt confirmed on Wednesday that the application was still "under consideration".
In addition to widespread community opposition backed by local MPs, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also stated that he does not support the project.
Meanwhile about 80,000 square kilometres of new offshore acreage is being offered to oil and gas explorers as the government seeks to advance its gas-led economic strategy. The new areas are off the Western Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian coastlines.
"The continued release of areas for exploration is important to providing a steady supply of energy for the future. I would welcome and encourage industry bidding on the released areas," Mr Pitt said.
He also urged oil and gas producers to push-back against activists who, he said, ignored the fact that resources development in Australia was carried out safely and responsibly. He added courts and bureaucratic processes were being used by activists to delay projects and potentially cripple companies.
But Shortland MP Pat Conroy, one of several MPs who have spoken in Parliament against PEP 11, urged Mr Pitt to determine the extension application as a priority.
"It's interesting to see that Mr Pitt has announced new areas for offshore oil and gas exploration when he is more than four months late in making a decision on the proposed extension of the PEP 11 licence," he said.
"He has been completely missing in action on this matter despite overwhelming opposition from Labor, the community, the NSW Government, and some Federal Liberal MPs.
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"Let's not forget that the PEP 11 licence is currently in a rollover period meaning exploration can continue while the Minister makes his decision.
"Labor supports new energy and resources projects where they make sense, but the fact is that PEP 11 doesn't stack up from an economic, environmental, or energy perspective.
"Mr Pitt needs end this uncertainty once and for all, listen to the community's wishes, and say no to PEP 11."
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