Mayor on thin ice with fracking claims


p2217-fracking-9By ERWIN CHLANDA
The town council last night voted five to three against a motion to call for a moratorium on fracking.
The opposing views came mostly from Mayor Damien Ryan, who claimed that if a motion by Cr Eli Melky were to be carried, the council would “deal ourselves out of the discussion” on the controversial mining process.
But Cr Jade Kudrenko, together with Cr Chansey Paech supporting Cr Melky, disagreed with Mayor Ryan, saying that having a considered view would make the council a valuable contributor to the debate.
And she said it would be a brave government that would exclude from discussion an elected body because it had an opinion differing from the government’s.
Mayor Ryan suggested that the Katherine and Wagait councils in the NT, who had passed anti-fracking motions, were already finding it difficult to be heard.
p2228-Peter-CleeHowever Peter Clee (pictured), the president of the Wagait Shire Council, said this morning, when asked for comment by the Alice Springs News Online: “We have not been excluded from the debate in any shape or form.
“We are still part of the debate. I make sure of that.
“We have expressed our views that we are against fracking and everyone knows that,” said President Clee.
“If regulations [about fracking] are improved and we feel we can tolerate it, we can overturn that motion.
“You need to let everyone know what your feelings are on the outset.”
The second point in last night’s debate was that Dr Allan Hawke, the author of the NT Government commissioned report into fracking, is due to make a presentation to the council – no date known yet.
The opponents to Cr Melky’s motion – Deputy Mayor Kylie Bonanni and Crs Steve Brown, Brendan Heenan, Dave Douglas and Mayor Ryan – took the view that Dr Hawke should be heard by the council before a decision on the call for a moratorium is made.
But Crs Kudrenko, Paech and Melky argued that Dr Hawke had already made it clear in his report that robust regulations would be needed before fracking is allowed. They claimed the moratorium could be lifted once these new rules are formulated.
Dr Hawke, they said, is unlikely to tell the council anything different to what he has already said.
Cr Melky said the moratorium would be in place only “until guarantees are provided”.
Cr Bonanni said if there was substantial public opposition to fracking there would be more signatures than the 165 on a petition presented to the council last night by Tanya Hall, of the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance.
As she had not had the opportunity of speaking to “the other side” Cr Bonanni said she would concur with Mayor Ryan, make up her mind after listening to Dr Hawke, and vote against Cr Melky for the time being.
Cr Kudrenko said the council had heard from many sides, industry, government and community representatives, enough to base its views on.
The mines department head had admitted a new regulatory regime is required. The government cannot demonstrate that adequate controls are in place, yet “big companies” are gearing up to “make lots of money,” she said.
Mayor Ryan reiterated that a vote for Cr Melky would result in the council having “no voice in debate,” being “sidelined … we won’t be included in the discussion”.
He said so far only 12 out of hundreds of local governments around Australia had carried moratorium motions.
Cr Melky said while fracking was successful and had been around for many years, “hydraulic fracturing and digging” is a different process: It goes deeper, penetrates through water, can drill horizontally under ground and the chemicals used may contaminate groundwater.
“What is the point of assessing an aquifer over 300 years – 100 years good water, 100 not so good and the rest pretty average – when it is at risk from chemicals,” he asked.
He says it is unclear what benefits the community will gain: The gas “goes off to NSW and the only gains maybe a brief presence of fly-in, fly-out workers”.
He said the department head had stated the methods would be “world class – but how good is world class?”
While the council has control only over the municipal area, there appeared to be a consensus that the moratorium would extend over the town’ water supply areas in a wider area as well.
When the supporters of Cr Melky criticised the absence of firm arrangements with Dr Hawke, Mayor Ryan said “I don’t run the government”.
He asked why the Alice Springs Town Council should get involved: Neither the Parliamentary Opposition had taken a stance, nor the rural councils. There would be no fracking in the municipality so far as he knows.
“It’s not a smart move to deal ourselves out of the discussion,” said Mayor Ryan.
“We are driving this argument in Central Australia. It’s a death knell debate … a hysterical rush to the waterfall.
“We want to hear from the author [of the report]. That’s what the other members have asked for.”
But both Crs Kudrenko and Paech said there had been broad debate in the community as well as in Parliament.
Cr Liz Martin is on six months leave.
UPDATE 5:45pm
The Katherine Town Council and the NT Department of Mines are having ongoing discussions about the council’s decision to push for a moratorium on fracking, says its CEO, Robert Jennings.
In response to a question from the Alice Springs News Online he said the decision had not influenced the relationship with the department.
The decision followed consultation with the community, “both sides of the issue,” and strong local concerns because Katherine “sits on a large aquifer”.
The discussions are still in the early stages but “so far so good,” says Mr Jennings.


  1. Just to highlight a concern – both sides of the debate have NOT actually been heard. We see huge amounts from the green lobbyists and their vanguard, but very little from those in the industry.
    For too long we have seen the environmental religion use abuse to shut down debates – good on those who have decided to wait for the full story before being railroaded by vested interests.
    Further – one just needs to look at the US to see the impact that “fracking” has had on the sustainability of the US economy and lifestyles.
    The more technology is used, the better it becomes and surely we need to see the whole story not just the hysteria that is whipped up to fall in line with the National Greens Movement.

  2. You don’t need to be a green lobbyist to care about our water security. The only people who support this industry are the ones who will make money from it and the people who have not bothered to get the facts.
    Leading scientist, hydrologists and even people in the industry agree this industry needs rigorous independent monitoring and transparency as accidents do happen, and no-one knows how to clean an aquifer or to deal with the billions of litres of waste product.
    So all you need to do is, ask yourself, is this a short term industry that only benefits a few worth risking our most precious resource: WATER that belongs to everyone.

  3. Good on the President of Wagait Shire and the three Alice Springs councillors supporting the moratorium on fracking until a proper assessment of the risks are undertaken.
    I too prefer a policy of “erring on the side of caution” and wonder if the Mayor and the councillors who voted “no” to the motion would take such risks with their personal property as they seem willing to take on behalf of our whole town.
    For let’s not kid ourselves: it is RISK we are talking about, the consequences of which the people of Alice will have to bear, not the companies, and for what – a dubious benefit to the local economy.
    I urge the Mayor and all councillors to truly begin “working for the community” by safeguarding our town’s future and reconsidering their position on the issue.
    After all, it is not an outright ban we are looking at here, but a pause until all the risks and benefits can be assessed.

  4. There has been more than ample time to make the request to Dr. Hawke for him to address a Council meeting.
    How long does it take to make a ‘phone call or send an email?
    When did Council make that decision to have him come? The water issue IS of concern to those within the boundaries of the municipality because their water supply is potentially affected.
    Like just because the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there were areas beyond the target area that were affected.
    Arguments designed to simply delay and stonewall the challenge process are not acceptable.
    The NT government is granting these exploration licences all the time. Alice fiddles while the NT burns.
    The other councils have not been “sidelined”. We are a proactive community. We need our council to reflect that.
    It is a tier of government in its own right. It has the right to make statement on the issue … or give its own guarantee that fracking is 100% safe. Hope their insurance is up to date if they do!

  5. Probably because those in the industry have no leg to stand on when it comes to talking up the virtues.
    Healthy economy be damned if it comes at the expense of trashing the planet.
    Way past time to focus on renewable energy, Another Observer.

  6. So it has come to this! Who really cares about human inheritance any more.
    Alice Springs will be assigned to the dusty depths of antiquity.
    Humans need clean water to be able to function.
    The quid gathers and vested interest in this fracking push don’t give a hoot in hell.
    Let the short term greedy cash roll in and simply stuff the world that is now climbing up its own orifice as a result.
    RIP genuine moral concern.

  7. I have always voted for Damien Ryan. Not anymore. Damien you have lost my vote now and if you stand as MLA in 2016 as is being rumored.

  8. I agree with Another Observer. There is very little in the way of balanced debate over fracking. The media is dominated by vocal opponents. I think all would agree that the key issue is not “not fracking” but “not adverse environmental impacts”.
    Water security is of course very important, but all our aquifers are not connected and therefore there is ample potential for fracking to operate in a safe way.
    Nor are all gas reserves near an aquifer. There is no reason that development can’t co-exist with environment /community if it is managed properly.
    The low population density of the NT makes it one of the best places for mining in that the fewest people are affected and community risks are lowest.
    The biggest issue by far is the capacity of the NT Government to effectively regulate fracking (or any development for that matter). In terms of environmental regulation the NT is dramatically under-resourced.

  9. Fracking is never clean, green or renewable!
    Why does not everyone in this country finally realize the potential it has for renewable energies?
    For a cleaner, greener and healthier future?
    Stop (or at least put on hold!) this craziness of putting all our lives at risk by contaminating and wasting precious water, which we all need to live every day!

  10. It is great that our Mayor has stood up to all this hysteria.
    There is no proven scientific evidence that even suggests that fracking is any more dangerous to water aquifers than conventional gas extraction.
    This is another ideologically driven and scientifically baseless argument from those on the far left.
    This town needs strong reasonable minded people taking a stand against this anti everything crowd.

  11. BTW, I have never voted for Damien Ryan in previous ballots but he has proven to be a strong voice for the progress of this town. He has my vote!

  12. I have closely followed the fracking issue for a number of years and have seen pros and cons on both sides of the argument.
    I have gone along to rallies and information nights given by miners themselves and CSIRO scientists.
    I have asked questions and read most things I could find. At the end of the day, my stance was formed on advice from an educated man from the CSIRO who told me that based on currently available scientific data, the process appears safe “providing there is proper safeguards including regular monitoring by a reputable body in place”.
    Given that monitoring will be done by the people who brought us Ranger, Redbank, Mount Todd, Rum Jungle and every other hole in the ground that continue to overflow every wet season, I don’t blame Alice Town Council for being cautious.
    I will also declare a conflict of interest – I have the privilege of sharing a boardroom with your mayor every few months and greatly look forward to it as he is the first politician I have met in many years who does not exhibit indicators of Napoleon Syndrome.

  13. I voted for the mayor but not again. We cannot take the chance of destroying our groundwater. This whole lot is about greed as I have seen what paper mills do. I have to say leave it alone. There is no shortage of gas. There are better alternatives.


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