LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – We call on the government to release the long-awaited independent ‘fracking’ Inquiry report, and take swift action to overhaul NT’s onshore petroleum regulations which it says are dangerous, irresponsible and embarrassing.
In March 2014 Chief Minister Adam Giles appointed Dr Allan Hawke AC to undertake an inquiry into hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory. The government received the inquiry in November 2014 and to-date has not released its findings to the public.
If, as we suspect, the report calls for serious attention to given to the state of the NT’s regulatory regime, then a responsible approach must be taken.
The currently regulatory regime is by far the weakest in Australia. The correct order of things is to fix the laws first.
Until that occurs, the process of exploration and extraction of shale gas by fracking should be put on hold. It is simply not good enough for the government, upon release of the report, to pay lip service to the need to examine the regulations.
A meaningful response with strict timelines is required. We worry that current NT laws are open to be abused by any unscrupulous operator who is granted a permit. The Petroleum Act clearly places economic interests over environmental interests.
In fact, there is no specific requirement for the Minister, when issuing permits, to consider the need to preserve and protect the environment at all.
NT laws regulating “fracking” do not include many of the measures associated with best practice around the world.
There is no defined code or policy for the protection of groundwater resources or fugitive emissions and air quality and review rights are heavily restricted. The process is pretty well shrouded in secrecy.
It lacks the kind of transparency required in other jurisdictions, the kind of transparency the public wants, the kind of transparency the public deserves in matter which place our environment and water at a significant risk.
We note that the Petroleum Act currently does not require consideration of Indigenous rights or cultural matters. Additionally, the risks associated with the NT’s weak regulations are exacerbated by a significant underinvestment in the number of authorised officers and their support.
There needs to be a significant increase in the level of compliance monitoring. In our view, that requires a transfer of compliance powers to the EPA, an increase in the number of EPA authorised officers coupled with a sustained investment in the EPA over the long term.
The system needs a complete overhaul and this government is yet to take any steps to remedy these shambolic laws.
Environmental Defenders Office NT
LETTER TO THE EDITOR