PEP11: The plan and the protests
My name is Drew McPherson and I was raised on Awabakal lands on the shores of Lake Macquarie, just south of Newcastle.
Like many kids on the coast, the ocean was my playground and proving ground; a place where lessons were learnt and memories were made. The ocean is a huge part of our culture and a place where communities connects daily. It is a place where we can relax, unwind and enjoy the magic of the water without the troubles and stresses of the ‘real’ world.
But before I go any further, let me first introduce to you to the elephant in the room: PEP11, or Petroleum Exploration Permit 11.
PEP11 is a designated 4,500 square km area of ocean stretching from Manly, through the Central Coast to Newcastle that has been highlighted as a prime drilling target for gas extraction.
I first heard about gas exploration projects off the East Coast of NSW back in 2018, when seismic testing was being conducted for PEP11. Seismic testing is the process of loud, underwater repetitive blasts that give an image of the subsurface. This data is then used by oil and gas companies to locate the most lucrative place to drill for gas or oil.
When I first heard that this process was occurring off Lake Macquarie, which is the biggest saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere, I researched meticulously the process and the effects it had on the marine environment. The research consistently showed that seismic testing causes catastrophic harm to the marine ecosystem, causing damage to everything from small plankton right through to humpback whales.
So I joined the community organisation Save Our Coast and helped rally the community to put an end to seismic testing off our coast. Our voices were heard and in January 2020 the company proposing the testing announced that they would no longer be conducting seismic testing for PEP11.
This was a big win, both for the coast and the community, but the fight was still far from over, as the gas company announced it still planned to go ahead with drilling for gas in our coastal waters.
Gas then became my research focus. I didn’t have to dig deep to find out that Australia is the biggest exporter of gas in the world!
This was interesting and shocking, as at the same time I was researching the dubious world of gas, the government and media were saying that Australia was experiencing a ‘gas shortage’. We are selling our gas to other countries, with the vast majority of profits going to private, offshore companies.
So, we're risking our coastline and ocean for the benefit of a few offshore companies, and that doesn’t seem sensible.
I understand that we still need gas and we still need oil, that’s just the way the world's set up at the moment.
But do we really, in 2021, need to open up new gas fields?
And do we need to do it off the most populated coastline in Australia?
We all know opening up more fossil fuel production is bad for the environment. We've lived through fire and floods, with experts telling us these events are being made worse by the climate crisis. We are all aware of it, and the majority of us are eager for new technologies that will hopefully lead us into a more environmentally harmonious way of life.
It’s been a huge year for the 'Stop PEP11' campaign. Together with our friends at Surfrider Foundation we’ve connected with communities all along the NSW coast and the message has been clear - these communities strongly oppose PEP11.
Politicians from all sides of the political landscape have also voiced their opposition, including Federal Labor, Greens Party, Independents, NSW State Government, and many Liberal MP’s. The final decision, as we were told, comes down to two people: NSW deputy premier John Barrilaro, and Minister for Resources Keith Pitt.
Earlier this year John Barrilaro announced his opposition to PEP11 but we are still awaiting a decision from Minister Keith Pitt. There is no doubt about it, this is a political game and we’re on the chess board. With marginal political seats along the NSW coast and a looming federal election, PEP11 really is the elephant in the room.
Together with Surfrider Foundation, Save Our Coast will be paddling out to voice our opposition to this ludicrous plan to drill for gas off the most populated stretch of the NSW coastline. If you’re a surfer, a swimmer, or anyone who enjoys the fruits of our coastline, then come along and join a paddle-out, connect with your community and scream your appreciation for the coastline from the top of your lungs.
Join us as we kick things off in Mona Vale, Sydney, this Saturday 17th April.
There are more paddle-out dates below. I hope to see you there.
- Mona Vale, Sydney, 17th April
- Terrigal, Central Coast, Saturday 24th April
- Newcastle, Saturday 1st May