Joel Fitzgibbon joins call for natural gas industry in the Hunter

UNLOCK: Joel Fitzgibbon, pictured at Weston Aluminium, wants the Hunter to lead the natural gas economy. He believes local industry will benefit. Picture: Marina Neil
UNLOCK: Joel Fitzgibbon, pictured at Weston Aluminium, wants the Hunter to lead the natural gas economy. He believes local industry will benefit. Picture: Marina Neil

There are renewed calls on both sides of politics to open up gas resources in NSW and the Hunter’s representative in federal parliament wants the region to lead the charge. 

Member for the Hunter and Labor’s shadow minister for agriculture and regional Australia Joel Fitzgibbon said the Hunter was perfectly suited to provide the infrastructure, workforce and transmission lines for a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) receiver terminal. 

“We have the wit to ship Liquid Natural Gas from the Indian Ocean to Asia but not the wit to ship it to the eastern seaboard,” he said.

“Government must provide the policy guidance needed to bring gas to eastern state markets and there could be no better place to build an LNG receiver terminal than Newcastle.”

The company behind a proposed 831km gas pipeline from Queensland to the Hunter is watching with optimism after Mr Fitzgibbon’s call for gas signified bi-partisan support for the industry at a federal level.

The massive Queensland Hunter Gas Pipeline project has sat on ice since being approved by the then Labor state government in 2009.

There will be projects that can be developed without any environmental threat and we should access those gas reserves. Locking up all reserves with wide-spread bans is just silly.

Federal Member for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon

It planned to bring gas from the Wallumbilla Gas Hub in Queensland through NSW, passing through Maitland, to a terminal in Newcastle.

QHGP managing director Garbis Simonian said he wanted his project “started yesterday” but as the state’s gas industry recoiled away from an uncertain future the first sod is yet to be turned.

“Industrial development needs gas to come to the Hunter… and we want it to come by our pipeline,” Mr Simonian said.

  “We think Narrabri’s gasfields are the go – with Santos.

“They’ve got gas, they’re not going to [use hydraulic fracturing/fracking], what’s the problem?” 

NSW’s final major gas extraction project is controversially located in the Pilliga State Forest near Narrabri. According to Santos’ website there are no plans to frack the project to extract gas.

SUPPORTER: Weston Aluminium Managing Director Garbis Simonian (left) and Tony Temelkovski General Manager pictured near Weston Aluminium in 2011. Picture: Fairfax Media

SUPPORTER: Weston Aluminium Managing Director Garbis Simonian (left) and Tony Temelkovski General Manager pictured near Weston Aluminium in 2011. Picture: Fairfax Media

Last year AGL abandoned plans to extract gas near Gloucester – the industry’s final foothold in the region.

Mr Fitzgibbon declined to comment specifically about restarting extraction in the Hunter. Instead, he said coal seam gas would play an important role in boosting manufacturing.

“We must give priority to the protection of our water tables and ensure agriculture pursuits in prime land are not threatened in any way,” he said.

“There will be projects that can be developed without any environmental threat and we should access those gas reserves.  

“Locking up all reserves with wide-spread bans is just silly.”

Mr Simonian agreed there would need to be a balance between unlocking gas and protecting sensitive ecology – including around vineyards and agricultural land.

But he said green political groups had oversimplified the issue to the detriment of working class families who relied on the energy sector for affordable power and employment.

“The greens don’t think it through,” he said.

“They just want to shut it down.”

“But life is not so simple, businesses are going broke. A smelter in Queensland just laid off people because it couldn’t secure base energy loads.”

Gas has re-entered the debate in recent months in the wake of energy security issues in South Australia and the growing push for renewables. 

Proponents of gas, including Mr Fitzgibbon and the government’s Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg, argue gas will provide a secure energy base while the nation transitions away from coal.

“Our energy future will be dominated by renewable and storage technologies. But the lengthy transition period will be underpinned by gas,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Gas coming to Newcastle can fire new gas-fired generators in the buffer zones of our current coal-fired generators, each of which are coming to the end of their commercial lives.”

Mr Fitzgibbon went on to say the coal seam gas reserves that could be safely developed would not be enough to meet the market’s needs.  

  “We need to find a way to deliver the huge gas reserves to our north and north-west to industry in NSW,” he said.

“It’s a plan for jobs, a plan for economic growth and a plan for a cleaner future.

“Let’s get on with it.”