Council cops out on frack-free zone


p2343-ASTC-van-HattumThe Town Council last night turned its back on a recommendation from its own Environment Advisory Committee (EAC) that council support a fracking no-go zone for the drinking water aquifer in Alice Springs.
At right: Jop van Hattum from the Department of Mines & Energy addressing council last night on the NT’s regulation of fracking. 
Without blushing, Mayor Damien Ryan proposed this alternative: that council ask the NT Government to protect the Alice Springs water supply now and into the future.
This proposal is so general and vague as to be almost meaningless, yet straight-faced and in front of a public gallery of Frack Free Alliance supporters (as well as Clarke Street residents concerned about vicious dogs), one by one the conservative block on council spoke in support.
It covers all eventualities, said Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni.
We don’t know what the future holds or where our water will come from, said Councillor Brendan Heenan, referring to the original motion’s specification of the Amadeus Basin as the source of Alice’s drinking water.
Cr Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by phone, reliably supported the Mayor, as did Crs Dave Douglas and Steve Brown.
Cr Brown countered Cr Jade Kudrenko’s suggestion that council take the advice of its advisory committee by saying that advisory committees are there only to provide advice: “We are not in any way compelled to listen to them.”
Mayor Ryan said the most important issue was to protect the water supply, and not limit that to one method of extraction.
Protect it from what? asked Cr Eli Melky, who chairs the EAC, urging that the particular risk be identified.
We already have the Water Act, said Cr Kudrenko, but many residents believe that it does not provide sufficient protection and are specifically concerned by the fracking threat.
Both Crs Melky and Kudrenko said they would support the Mayor’s motion as well as the original motion so that the message would be absolutely clear.
Cr Melky urged his fellow elected members to not be afraid of saying the words “shale gas fracturing”.
However, they were. Mayor Ryan, Deputy Mayor de Brenni, and Crs Brown, Douglas, Heenan and Price all voted against the motion.
Cr Chansey Paech was absent, with work commitments. However he had seconded the original motion in the EAC, so it can be expected he would have voted for it.
The Mayor’s platitude was passed unanimously.

Above: Locals joining a highway demonstration for water protection against fracking, part of  a national action last Saturday. This group was at Larapinta. About 70 locals participated around Alice. Photo supplied by the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance.

This came after council had heard from Department of Mines and Energy spokesperson Jop van Hattum (Senior Director Petroluem Technology and Operations) on the NT Government’s regulatory reforms for the onshore oil and gas industry.
Mayor Ryan’s first question to Mr van Hattum was about the protection of the Alice Springs water supply, on which no precision had been offered.
Cr Melky was more pointed, saying that he was not satisfied that the department’s approach of reducing risks to a level “as low as reasonably possible” – it’s even got an acronym, ALARP – was acceptable when it comes to water.
Cr Kudrenko wanted to know who determines whether a risk is acceptable. Ultimately it’s the Minister for Mines, said Mr van Hattum. What about the Minister for the Environment? asked Cr Kudrenko.
The Minister for Mines is obliged to consider the report that comes to him or her from the NT’s Environment Protection Agency, said Mr van Hattum. He suggested that the ALARP principle, combined with transparency of reporting to which the government is committed, provides a “continuously improving system” for environmental protection.
Cr Kudrenko said she could not accept “risk minimisation” when it comes to protecting water supplies – “water is our life”. She wanted to see the onus put on mining companies to prove that any contamination of water was not due to their practices.
Mr van Hattum said he would be happy to come back to council to talk specifically about the risks to water posed by drilling and / or hydraulic fracturing.
He had earlier shown a map of the NT, which identified areas in green where agreements have been reached with landholders, including native-title holders and traditional owners, allowing petroleum exploration to go ahead. These were concentrated around the Beetaloo Sub-basin south of Katherine, the only known prospective basin for hydrocarbon development, said Mr van Hattum.
Others areas on the map shown in orange are exclusion zones – urban and rural residential areas. These included Darwin and Coomalie. Closer to home, Watarrka National Park has been excluded. However, the map did not show Alice Springs as an orange zone. It certainly will be excluded, said Mr Van Hattum, to sceptical murmurings from the public gallery.


  1. Disappointing to witness first hand the majority of councilors including our Mayor watering down the a strong recommendation from the Environmental Advisory Committee.
    A clear attempt to maintain by-partisan relationships with the current and future government, the motion passed will not stand up to the pressures of the Gas Industry and the CLP Government.
    It was questioned why the council has advisory committees if not to consider their recommendations in all seriousness, to which Councilor Brown commented that advisory committees are just that, to advise. Note the recommendation passed by the EAC was voted 19 to 20 in favor of the motion.
    Ignoring the facts puts our water supply in grave danger from an industry that is driven by “reasonably impracticable” standards and is committed to “learning what best practices looks like” with a “continuous improvement system”, where “the company engages the experts” in review processes.
    However our council is committed to “calling on the Northern Territory Government to protect Alice Springs water supply from now and into the future”.

  2. If Darwin, Coomalie and Watarrka National Park have been excluded, then exclusion is an accepted procedure with precedence. So why not exclude Alice Springs?
    “It certainly will be excluded”, said Mr Van Hattum. Then just do it, Mr Van Hattum. Your postponement makes your promises ring hollow.

  3. As low as reasonably possible? Does that mean its OK to go ahead and poison our water and our future as long as it looks like you tried not to. What a pissweak idea. Oil gas are useful but water is life.

  4. A shameful display by the Mayor and the Councillors to his right last night.
    Without Councillor Kudrenko and Melky standing up to protect our aquifers from their greatest threat – shale gas fracking, there would be no one in that chamber with a spine to do so.
    Thank you for your efforts Jade and Eli. It must be tough having to face that self interested school yard bully mob every fortnight.
    Thanks for not giving in. Our democracy would be finished without your different voices in the mix.

  5. Our food producers, the beef and pork industries, are far more damaging to our environment than fracking ever was or ever will be.
    Why do we never see the Knitting Nanas work up the courage to park themselves out the front of McDonalds and Hungry Jacks?

  6. Thanks for covering the meeting so comprehensively Kieran. Also for an unforgettable line of journalism: “The Mayor’s platitude was passed unanimously.” Classic.

  7. Council should perhaps considering abandoning its advisory groups. They waste good people’s voluntary expertise and time: Cr Brown countered Cr Jade Kudrenko’s suggestion that council take the advice of its advisory committee by saying that advisory committees are there only to provide advice: “We are not in any way compelled to listen to them.”
    This has been the way with the PAAC for years too. It is very patronising in the end.

  8. Oil and gas are useful for powering your laptops. Solar is perhaps better, but you need water to power your necktop computer. It seems there are quite a few people whose necktops are riddled with viruses.

  9. The vandalism of political signs around town by anti fracking was disgusting.
    Is how these [expletive deleted] feel they have act to get their message across?
    The only support they will get will be the minority anti frackers in the Old Eastside.
    How would they feel if their signs on there front fences were vandalized?
    We all want our water safe but we all know councils are rates and garbage. How about we give them a break and let them do there jobs?

  10. Wasn’t the stated objective to “protect” our water supply?
    I think the motion given that it was always going to be a motherhood kind of statement as council has no direct input into the mechanics of water supply, that being the sole the responsibility of the NT Government.
    Given that fact, our motion to ask government to protect our water supply covered that objective very well, taking into account any threat to our water supply.
    The motion could only be considered disappointing to the more fanatical left wing anti-frackers who in reality couldn’t care less about our water supply, it being just another fear mongering tool to be used as they push their back to the dark ages anti fossil fuel propaganda.
    As for taking advice from advisory committees … these are there to offer advice. Any decision making around that advice has to be by elected community representatives. If non-elected members on these committees have a particular political viewpoint or agenda they wish to inflict on our community they should take that point of view to the people in the election process. If the community supports their cause they’ll be elected. In the meantime, it is the duty of elected members to argue and put forward the points of view on which they themselves were elected.
    This often means guarding against the views of small radical minorities such as the anti-frackers and the Greens who do not enjoy community wide support and who often migrate towards the committee process as another means of pushing their cause.
    This pathway unfortunately is made all the easier for them by the couldn’t be bothered attitude of many locals towards their community’s committee processes. Sometimes advice from committees simply consists of Green propaganda of the sort that is fouling up regulation throughout the nation, making life so much more difficult for Australians trying to get ahead and to compete on the world scene. So, yes, I reject that advice whenever it comes up and will continue to do.
    @ Jimmy: Democracy is the rule of the majority which also requires the losing side of any vote to accept the majority decision with good grace and maturity in the interest of the greater good.
    If you want to set the direction in a functioning democracy you have to convince the majority that you are right.
    So far, Jimmy, you’ve never been able to convince more than a tiny percentage of the population. I would have thought that within itself would be reason enough for most thinking persons to question their objectives.
    Not you, Jimmy, because as we both know you are simply pushing chip on the shoulder, anti establishment, anti civilisation, anti human being politics on envy and trying to somehow connect that agenda to the environment.
    In doing so you are making environmental protection something people are often reluctant to be associated with. A Good community outcome is always a sensible balance between activity of any kind and the environment. Every single thing we do has some form of risk associated with it. The best we can do and still keep our civilisation functioning is to minimise the risk. The Territory Government has done more than another government to date to minimise the risk posed by fracking, setting areas aside, ramping up regulation and monitoring with even further areas of community interest to be excluded as they come to light. I expect the Mereenie Bore-field will be among those that are set aside from fracking. They should be congratulated for their efforts.
    The very first obligation of any lobbyist, Jimmy, is to say thank you and make congratulatory comment when a government moves in directions they have been lobbying for. I await with bated breath to see if your big enough.

  11. Oh Steve. You obviously haven’t been watching what’s happening around the nation where farmers, traditional owners and communities are standing together against the politics of entitlement to protect groundwater from pollution by gas companies and wilful governments.
    It’s a growing and thriving movement of people who value life and the life giving qualities of groundwater.
    It obviously has you rattled because many people who have voted CLP in the past are turning their back on the party due to the mistrust of the fracking process and politicians (and parties) who have given their unwavering support to this industry.
    My values are not extreme in the slightest. I am a moderate who cares about the future of this town and region and am prepared to work hard to ensure the truth is understood by the public.
    Elections provide an opportunity for people to voice their concerns about various issues and for others to have the privilege to govern on our behalf. Regardless of who you vote for, the elected representatives are supposed to govern for all of us, not just their mates and family members.
    You are an elected official, you have a responsibility to govern for all of us in this town, whether we voted for you or not.
    You have the privilege and the responsibility of making decisions on behalf of all of us who call Alice Springs home – we are your constituents. But I really struggle to nail down what it is you have done since you have been on council.
    What have you stood for? Who has benefited from your decisions? What is your legacy?
    In regards to risk, it is to be managed and without risk, there is no reward. But when a risk has the possibility of catastrophic consequences like that of a towns drinking water supply, the burden of proof is on the proponent to prove that it is safe before the action is taken. This is the precautionary principle.
    The NT government has categorically failed to develop the robust regulatory system that it talks about. Unlike yourself, I have read the new Petroleum Regulations, the guidelines and the principles.
    The new regulations actually create bigger loopholes for companies than previously and the infringement notices can allow companies to get away with doing the wrong thing and paying only one tenth of the fine if it were taken to court.
    The principles and guidelines while sound good, are unenforceable and therefore just window dressing.
    The NT Government has done everything it can to weaken the system and kill off all environmental organisations in the NT to ensure that the truth doesn’t make it out into the public.
    Unfortunately for the Giles Government and your election bid, the trust deficit is huge and growing daily.
    The government that pays for television advertising to spruik the onshore aka shale gas fracking industry while also reassuring the public that we absolutely “don’t need a moratorium” to determine whether fracking is safe or not is morally bankrupt.
    We’re still waiting for the mining and petroleum exemptions from the water act to pass.
    Re advisory committees, it is an appointment not an application process for myself on the council Environment Advisory Committee and many of the committees I voluntarily give my time to.
    I participate actively because I want to improve the situation and give some insights from a position that requires critical thinking and analysis.
    I don’t just go along with what the government tells me to be fact. I read widely to ensure I can understand the situation from numerous sides.
    That is what should be expected of advisory committees Steve, good advice, whether you agree with it or not. It’s your choice to accept it and allow it to influence your decisions. But I fear you do not take advice very well.
    Therefore, I conclude that I will not change your opinion on this, or anything for that matter because it is you who holds the fixed ideological position.
    And I will not congratulate the NT government for doing nothing but weakening our environmental approvals system. I will not congratulate the NT government for locking in gas fired power generation at the expense of solar in this sun loving town.
    But I will advise you to deeply consider your reasons for being on council.
    To the people of Araluen, I encourage you to read what Steve Brown writes in the readers’ comment section of the Alice Springs News Online and get to know the person wanting to “represent” you in the August NT election – I warn you that you may find his views extreme and his values inconsistent.

  12. Steve’s views aren’t so extreme. They seem to be quite mainstream for a lot of the [expletive deleted] we have in Parliament. It’s my way or the highway.
    This man quite happily advocates the destruction of the natural beauty of the Territory that so many of us love just so he might be able to squeeze another cow.
    And then comes out with ridiculous statements like the world’s population will all die if I don’t get my way.
    He counters careful argument with abuse. He is exactly what we don’t want in a politician.
    Cast your vote for someone who can think beyond the short term profit, someone who is capable of reasoned and measured discussion, someone who cares for our whole community.

  13. Fracking has been around since the late 40s and gas has flowed from Mereenie and Palm Valley since the early 80s.
    In the years since the early 80s, I don’t recall a time our water tasted funny.
    The argument against fracking always seems to be what “could” happen. No one should dictate to the Western Arrernte traditional owners, or any traditional owners, what they can and can’t do on their country.
    If they want gas exploration or not, it’s their say. They shouldn’t have to fight for land rights and native title from the government, just to have environmentalists lock it up again.
    Many Aboriginal people welcome economic development. Aboriginal stockmen were the backbone of the cattle industry. Gas exploration can provide employment and royalties. Much of those mob can’t afford a quaint wooden house in the leafy streets of Eastside with a Suburu Forrester in the drive-way.

  14. Well said Jim , I didn’t agree either with the defacing of placards around town and some of the idiots on the roundabouts with no high vis on – some nearly got cleaned up, where’s work safe when you need them?

  15. There is one thing missing from this argument – scientific facts, real ones, not Medicare-like propaganda “facts” from demonstrators.
    Let’s hear from a range of scientists and also people who actually work in both the gas and solar industry.
    Let’s see facts about environmental damage incidents if any have occurred at all due to fracking.
    Let’s see facts about production output of solar energy and see if it can provide EXACTLY the same amount of energy that is required right now.
    Don’t forget, it is our basic right to have an uninterrupted source of power.
    I have lived in a 3rd world country where power was continually interrupted. The result: Businesses left and so did the people. This WILL happen in the NT if power cannot be guaranteed, in which case the Lock the Gates signs on fences may well change to read: For Sale – heavily discounted.
    We may, as consumers, be very sorry indeed if we ban something that is not dangerous and try to replace it with something that is unreliable and unavailable as solar power is right now.
    In the future, there will no doubt be a lot of cheap energy for us all. But not now … not now.


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