Tired of not being able to swim in winter at Sydney beaches? Want to see a new industry drag NSW out of its rut? Want to get your hands, however belatedly, on some minerals boom action?

Look no further than Energie Future’s proposal to establish coal gasification rigs off the coast of Sydney and the Central Coast, which the NSW Greens have been trying to draw attention to, with the help of journalist Paul McGuire. Energie Future has applied for licences to explore for coal deposits on the seabed just off a stretch of coast from Sydney up to Newcastle (the Greens have helpfully provided a map showing the extensive area involved) to use in a gasification project that would involve the deposits being set alight to produce gas.

The comment period for the application closed recently and the matter is now in the hands of the NSW Government, which has gone suspiciously quiet about Energie’s application.

“Energie Who?” you’re perhaps wondering. Energie Future was only registered in August, and its managing director is Sydney entrepreneur and economic optimist Rick Somerton, who in a past life headed the GET travel and conference group. Energie appears to have hired the friendly folk at Cato Counsel to handle PR, although they’re not lobbying the Commonwealth yet. Such lobbying will be needed, as approval for the project will depend on the Commonwealth because of the impact on matters of national environmental significance. The office of Environment Minister Peter Garrett — who’d have a fine view of the drilling rigs from his beachside electorate of Kingsford-Smith — says it is yet to receive an application.

While Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has suggested the project — which relies on massive undersea explosions to ignite coal deposits — might seriously harm migrating whales as well as posing an appalling risk of despoiling beaches between Cronulla and Newcastle, we at Crikey think that betrays a lack of vision for what the project could bring to Sydney:

  • The rigs will liven up the otherwise bland and featureless ocean horizon off the coast. Imagine lying on Bronte Beach at dawn and toasting the sun as it emerges through the derricks. “To a new dawn of prosperity!”;
  • You’ll be able to swim all year round in Sydney courtesy of water warmed by a massive inferno under the seabed;
  • The rigs will liven up the start of the otherwise mind-numbingly tedious Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race by forcing the millionaires in their boats to avoid rigs, pipelines and vessels queued for filling once they get out of the Heads;
  • Decades of dumping Sydney sewage in the ocean should also provide a good source of methane from the seabed;
  • Someone needs to invest in infrastructure in NSW because the Labor Government sure can’t manage it;
  • And of course the biggest benefit of all — the chief by-product of the process is carbon dioxide. As we all know, the world desperately needs more CO2.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey