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Wednesday, 05/03/2023 8:57:50 AM

Wednesday, May 03, 2023 8:57:50 AM

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NT government announces fracking in the Beetaloo Basin can go ahead
By Roxanne Fitzgerald and Sarah Spina-Matthews
Posted 11h ago11 hours ago, updated 3h ago3 hours ago
WATCH
Duration: 1 minute 50 seconds1m 50s
The Northern Territory Government has announced fracking in the Beetaloo Basin will be able to go ahead.
The Northern Territory government will allow a full-scale onshore gas industry to go ahead in the gas-rich Beetaloo Basin, five years after a moratorium on fracking was lifted.

Key points:
The NT Government will allow fracking to go ahead in the Beetaloo Basin
They say they have implemented all 135 recommendations of the Pepper inquiry
Scientists claim they have not met a recommendation to offset gas emissions from the project
The government has been racing to tick off 135 recommendations from the 2018 Pepper inquiry, which found industry risks could be managed if its recommendations were implemented in full.

The government announced today that has been done, and oil and gas companies will be able to make an application for onshore gas production projects, which will be regulated by one of the most robust frameworks in Australia.

It also said it has a new petroleum operations unit to deliver a strong compliance program, which will be funded by a $2 million annual investment.

It comes after the NT government released the findings of a critical, three-year study into fracking in the Beetaloo sub-basin on April 19.

The Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA), which was a key recommendation from the Pepper inquiry, found no new risks associated with the development of an onshore gas industry.

Nicole Manison and Natasha Fyles stand side-by-side in front of a number of media microphones
Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison and Chief Minister Natasha Fyles made the announcement on Wednesday. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)
However, almost 100 scientists published an open letter in national newspapers across Australia on Wednesday, urging the NT government not to allow fracking to go ahead and warning of "the damage it will inflict on our climate".

The scientists claimed one key recommendation of the Pepper inquiry, known as 9.8, had not been addressed.

"[The government] committed to implement all the recommendations of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing," the letter stated.

"Including that the NT and Australian governments seek to ensure that there is no net increase in the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT.

"The Northern Territory government has failed to keep its commitment."

NT denies Beetaloo gas plans in doubt without offsets help
No federal support for Territory Labor's promise to ensure all Beetaloo Basin emissions are offset is on the table, as cabinet prepares to announce whether full-scale fracking will be allowed to go ahead.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles stands looking concerned in front of some large flags.
Read more
Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said the government had released the final implementation report from the Pepper inquiry, saying it "absolutely met the recommendation".

The government scrapped a previous policy that only required companies to manage their emissions if they exceed 100,000 tonnes, but will now mandate all operators to submit a Greenhouse Gas Abatement plan outlining their pathway to net zero by 2050, regardless of size.

The government admitted it won't be able to deal with emissions created by the actual burning of gas for energy — commonly referred to as "scope three" emissions — generated outside of the NT, which account for a large portion of the total emissions from a project.

Instead, they are counting on the federal government's safeguard mechanism to capture and regulate these emissions.

An aerial view of an exploration well in the Northern Territory's Beetaloo Basin on a patch of cleared land surrounded by bush
The Beetaloo Basin is an enormous shale gas reserve about 500 kilimetres sout-east of Darwin. (Supplied: Empire Energy)
Dr David Ritchie — the bureaucrat tasked with overseeing the government's implementation of the Pepper inquiry's recommendations — disagreed that the recommendation around abating emissions had been completed.

Scientists call for Beetaloo fracking ban
The NT government is poised to make a final decision on whether it will green-light fracking in the Beetaloo Basin, but nearly 100 scientists have called for a fracking ban in the region, saying the costs to the community could be "enormous".

a gas flare in front of an exploration well.
Read more
"There has been no progress on the crux of this recommendation," he said.

Ms Fyles said both the Commonwealth and NT government were "putting in place the measures to transition the Northern Territory and Australia to net zero emissions".

"[But] we cannot simply flick a switch and transition overnight," she said.

She did not directly answer a question about whether or not the federal government had committed to help offset emissions from the project.

"The Commonwealth is focused on this," she said.

"We will continue to work with them."

Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison said the project would provide economic benefits to the NT through royalties.

"It will help fund things like schools, hospitals, services, housing," she said.

"There will be further economic flow-on benefits … more jobs, more benefits, more development in remote regions of the NT."

Traditional owners concerned, peak bodies welcome announcement
Ms Fyles said traditional custodians would be able to veto any projects on their country.

But Beetaloo Basin traditional owner and Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair Johnny Wilson said that was an incorrect claim.

"There is no veto right at production stage under native title or land rights laws," he said.

"When our old people said yes, many years ago, they had no idea of the many thousands of wells we are looking at now."

Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation
Johnny Wilson is concerned traditional owners will not have genuine power to veto projects on their country. (Supplied: Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation)
The Pepper Inquiry found that Native Title holders "do not have a statutory right to veto an exploration permit by the government" but have the right to make an agreement with a gas company.

And under the land rights act traditional owners can say yes to development in some areas and no to development in others, but only in the exploration phase.

Outside parliament after the announcement, Anna Weekes from the Australian Parents for Climate Action said she was gravely concerned for her children's future in the wake of what she described as an industry going ahead with "no plan to manage emissions".

"We have no option but to defend a liveable climate for them," she said.

The NT Chamber of Commerce chief executive Greg Ireland said the green light for fracking was a win for the NT because it would create jobs.

"The territory has long suffered from the fact that it's been reliant on federal government support, but having our own revenue streams is critically important for our future," he said.

"It will build a technical skills base, it will build opportunities for our kids and encourage more and more people to want to live in the territory."

Four people stand on a concrete outdoor floor. They are holding red and white signs with ant-fracking slogans on them
Some people protested the decision outside Parliament House. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), the overarching body for the oil and gas industry, has also welcomed the announcement.

With oil and gas companies still in their testing and appraisal phase in the Beetaloo Basin, it is expected that production applications will start flowing in for government approval next year.

Related Stories
'The end of the line': Scientists send open letter urging NT government to abandon fracking plans
a gas flare in front of an exploration well.
NT government finalises key Beetaloo Basin study ahead of final fracking decision
An aerial shot of a drilling site in the Beetaloo Basin. Machinery and vehicles are in a land clearing surrounded by trees,
NT government denies Beetaloo Basin gas plans in doubt without federal support for offsets promise
NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles stands looking concerned in front of some large flags.
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