Concerned community members have stepped up their fight against a controversial offshore gas proposal in New South Wales, engaging the Environmental Defenders Office to send a legal letter calling on state and federal ministers to deny an application that could lead to industrial-scale drilling off the coast from Newcastle to North Sydney.

The legal letter was sent by EDO on behalf of community group Save Our Coast, opposing an application by Advent Energy Ltd to vary the Petroleum Exploration Permit 11 (PEP11) to enable drilling within the vast 4,547 km2 site within the offshore Sydney Basin.

If varied, the PEP11 project could see drilling commence in a world-renowned whale migration route and dolphin habitat,  risking devastating the marine ecosystem and exposing locals from Newcastle to Manly to the prospect of petroleum spills or gas rigs mere kilometres from the coastline.

Community opposition to PEP 11 has been fierce, with more than 10,000 letters written to state and federal MPs opposing drilling within PEP11, and a 61,000-strong petition against the project submitted to Federal Parliament.

The legal letter spells out the scale of community backlash around the project and calls on NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Federal Minister for Resources Keith Pitt to exercise their discretionary powers as Joint Authority under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (Cth) not to vary PEP11.

“PEP 11 is a shocking plan to industrialise NSW’s iconic coastline from Manly through the Central Coast to Newcastle, to drill for gas off our beautiful coast, risking devastating the marine ecosystem, the climate, and communities’ wellbeing and way of life,” said Save Our Coast director Dr Natasha Deen.

“Communities are already struggling with the uncertainty of COVID 19, so soon after the devastating bushfires: we are heartbroken at the very idea of further stress, uncertainty and risk of catastrophic harm that PEP 11 will inflict on us, the climate, and our beloved coast that we depend on for wellbeing and livelihoods.

“We have engaged EDO to send this legal letter outlining the powers held by the ministers responsible for these approvals to exercise their discretion to deny the application for drilling in PEP 11.

“This is an opportunity for Ministers Pitt and Barilaro to hear the concerns of the community, to save our way of life and save our coast that we all love.”

“They call it PEP 11 – we call it home.”

EDO Director of Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said the thousands of people were concerned about the impacts of the project on climate on their communities.

“Tens of thousands of people have spoken out about this project, citing impacts on the ecosystem, risk of petroleum spills, marine pollution, the risk of catastrophic damage to the coast, and risk to the mental health of community members,” she said.

“This project would also fuel climate change at a time when it is crucial for the world to cease development of new fossil fuel projects to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit the worst effects of catastrophic global warming.

“Gas is not a clean fuel, nor is it a transition fuel. Any new gas project will necessarily lead to higher global emissions which will in turn lead to an increase in bushfires, droughts, heatwaves and other climate change impacts.

“As the Joint Authority under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006, Deputy Premier Barilaro and Minister Pitt can use their discretion to vary or not vary the conditions of permits like PEP 11.

“Our client is arguing that this discretion is not unfettered, and these ministers must take into account the public interest in their decision-making.

“Tourism operators, recreational fishers and boat owners, scientists, conservationists, federal MPs and thousands of everyday Australians have objected to this project. “Our client believes this backlash gives a clear indication that the public interest is best-served by the Joint Authority rejecting any application that would enable drilling within PEP 11.”