Coal seam drilling suffers a setback

A closer look: NISA spokesman Peter Turner and Anne Young visiting one of Apex’s borehole sites last year. Picture: John Veage
A closer look: NISA spokesman Peter Turner and Anne Young visiting one of Apex’s borehole sites last year. Picture: John Veage

APEX Energy’s controversial plans to drill for coal seam gas in Sydney’s drinking water catchment are in doubt, following the expiry of one of the company’s two licences to explore the area.

Apex was granted approval to drill 15 exploratory boreholes on Woronora plateau, nine of which are covered by the expired licence, by the previous government in 2009. The state government approved a 16th borehole late last year.

Eight of the boreholes underpinned by the expired lease are located within the metropolitan special area, off limits to the public because it is part of a catchment used to supply drinking water to Sydney.

The approval of the first 15 boreholes, issued by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, was based on the assumption that the two petroleum exploration licences granted to Apex by the Department of Resources and Energy, numbers 442 and 444, would continue to be held by the company.

This is no longer the case.

Apex has lodged a new PEL application, number 138, to try to reclaim its capacity to explore the area, but this approval is certainly not a given because a competing application for the same land has been lodged by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. The land council’s application does not allow drilling.

Apex could also apply to the director- general of the Planning and Infrastructure Department for a variation to its terms of approval which, if granted, could allow the company to proceed with the six boreholes covered by PEL 444, but a department spokesman said no application had been received.

A representative of Apex Energy declined to comment on the situation, and calls to Ormil Energy, Apex’s partner, were not returned by deadline.

Environmentalists opposed to coal seam gas extraction have leapt on the bungle, saying the government should use it to cancel the original approvals.

Northern Illawarra Sustainability Alliance spokesman Peter Turner said: ‘‘It’s time to pull the plug on the Apex-Ormil drilling projects and ban any further [coal seam gas] activity in our special areas and any other key catchments areas in NSW.’’


A Department of Resources and Energy spokeswoman confirmed to the Leader that PEL 442 has lapsed, and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure says the company cannot explore any of the 15 boreholes unless both of the PELs are in place.

‘‘Under its conditions of approval Apex Energy needs to drill or operate petroleum wells before the expiry of PELs 442 or 444 (whichever is sooner), unless otherwise agreed by the Director-General of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.’’

Do you have concerns about the coal seam drilling?