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Zombie PELS: Farmers’ worst fears confirmed as gas companies seek to raise expired permits from the dead

North west NSW farmers say their worst fears are being realised as gas companies announce plans to raise so-called “zombie-PELs” from the dead in response to the Independent Planning Commission’s decision to greenlight the Santos Narrabri gasfield.

The day after the IPC published its decision on the Narrabri gasfield, Comet Ridge, a joint partner with Santos that owns zombie licences PEL 6, PEL 427, and PEL 428, released a statement to the ASX welcoming the approval and announcing it “anticipates a return to exploration and approval” of two of its three dormant licences in the north west. 

Zombie PELs are petroleum licences that have expired, but have not been formally extinguished by the NSW Government. There are 12 of these licences that stretch across 56,000km2 between the Queensland border, Dubbo, Moree, the Warrumbungles, and the Upper Hunter.

National Party members voted to have these licences extinguished last year, yet the NSW Government failed to act, meaning the licences can be re-activated.

The move by gas companies also comes after the Morrison Government labeled the entire Gunnedah Basin as a target for its plans to sink taxpayer money into propping up five polluting gasfields across the country.

“It’s what we feared would happen if the Narrabri gasfield was approved, and it’s shattering news to hear these gas companies and the Morrison Government are so eager to put our land, water and communities at risk,” said Mulalley farmer Margaret Fleck, whose property is included in PEL 12, owned by Santos’ joint venture partner Carbon Minerals.

Carbon Minerals itself released a statement earlier this year flagging investment in its zombie PELs in the north west.

“A huge area of land across north west NSW is now at serious risk of being transformed into industrial gasfields, as we have seen in the Surat Basin in Queensland,” Ms Fleck said.

“This means we could face the same problems as farmers further north - drained and contaminated groundwater, huge areas of land cleared and pockmarked with unconventional gas wells, and the need for companies to dump mammoth amounts of toxic CSG waste.”

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said the Berejiklian-Barilaro Government should have stamped out these licences long ago, just like it had done with CSG licences closer to the coast.

“These companies have sat on these licences for years, creating uncertainty for farmers and communities who just want to get on with their lives without the threat of destructive CSG hanging over their heads,” she said.

“Many of these companies have failed to comply with NSW law by simply sitting on these licences and doing nothing with them for so many years, so the government has every opportunity to cancel them and give farming communities some certainty.

“Local members representing these farming communities should listen to the concerns of their constituents and ensure the government permanently slays these zombie licences.”

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