A TOTAL of 12 exploration licences were sold back to the government of New South Wales ahead of the state election, which the governing Liberal National coalition won.

The one-off buyback of unused Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) was launched under the NSW gas plan, which the state introduced following the release of chief scientist Mary O’Kane’s Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW.

The most recent company to take advantage of the scheme was AGL, which offloaded PEL 5, a 39,800 hectare central coast permit, to the government in early March.

AGL’s acting group general manager of upstream gas Scott Thomas said the decision was made after the permits, which cover land from Wyong to Morisset, were deemed not to be commercially viable.

“The majority of the surface area is covered by lakes and mining leases leaving only 10 per cent of the PEL area available for exploration,” Mr Thomas said.

“AGL’s current geological understanding of PEL 5 indicates that the technical elements required for a successful gas project are not present in the available area.”

PEL 437, in the state’s central north, and PEL 476, north of Maitland, were also re-acquired by the state in March from resources company Pangaea early in March.

Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts said the companies would be given “limited compensation” under the one month plan.

The Liberal National government was also working on a new strategic release framework, for the establishment of a new set of standards that must be observed before a title area is considered for release.

Another PEL from Pangaea, two from Clarence Moreton Resources, three from Apex Energy and four from Dart Energy have been returned to the government since early December.

Dart, now owned by UK-focused IGas Energy, holds these licences as on a care and maintenance basis, with the company to retain the wholly owned PEL 445 and PEL 458, as well as a 50% stake in the Santos-operated PEL 456 following the decision.

Dart can only carry out low impact exploration activities, including data review, mapping and technical evaluation on the North Coast based PEL 445 after the company successfully renewed the licence in December 2014.