By ERWIN CHLANDA
There was talk of the new NT Petroleum (Environment) Regulations being reviewed just a day after being announced, to consider the requirement for fracking wells to be inspected by third party experts.
This provision, absent from the regulations announced yesterday, had been recommended by energy law expert Tina Hunter, who advises the NT Government and who also spoke at the Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting in Alice Springs in March (photo above left).
Mines Minister David Tollner referred to Dr Hunter in a Letter to the Editor in April and said the “NT Government remains committed to implementing a robust regulatory regime for onshore oil and gas activities”.
But then, just before knock-off time today, Dr Hunter’s recommendations got the heave-ho.
A media statement made today from Mr Tollner said: “The Schedule of Onshore Petroleum Exploration and Production Requirements to the Petroleum Act sets out specific requirements and standards for construction and decommissioning of wells. The Minister may require validation of design and verification of well construction by an independent validator.”
Note the word “may”.
This is what Dr Hunter said in her independent review of the draft petroleum regulations: “Well inspection by an independent certified third party inspector should be a mandatory component of the regulatory regime for drilling, and should be considered during the drafting of the relevant regulations.”
Meanwhile Naomi Hogan, from the Lock the Gate Alliance, earlier this week called the regulations “a rush job that fails well integrity test” and “the regulations are so vague they do not even mention the words ‘shale’ or ‘gas’. It’s left up to the company to decide what the best approach to fracking is.
“The regulations give all the power to the Mines Minister to decide on the acceptable risk from fracking.”
According to Mr Tollner’s media statement made yesterday all environmental risks and impacts are identified and reduced to an “acceptable level and a level that is as low as reasonably practicable” and environmental impacts must be at levels “that are both acceptable and as low as reasonably practicable”.
Although Mr Tollner (at right) doesn’t say so, it is clear that it’s the Minister, finally, who judges what is acceptable, reasonable and practicable.
Dr Hunter is a Reader in Energy Law and the co-director of the Aberdeen University Centre for Energy Law.
She was the inaugural director of the Centre for International Minerals and Energy Law at the University of Queensland.
She teaches and researches in the areas of national and international petroleum law, unconventional petroleum regulation, Arctic petroleum law and governance, international investment protection in the energy sector, and resources law and policy.
In addition to teaching at the University of Aberdeen, Dr Hunter has previous or ongoing teaching appointments in Norway, Australia, Iceland and Russia.
She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Bergen, the University of Aberdeen, Murdoch University, and the University of Texas Austin.
Dr Hunter has presented at over fifty conferences on three continents.
The Alice Springs News Online has asked her for comment on the rejection of her recommendation by the NT Government.
UPDATE July 14:
Professor Tina Hunter emailed today: “The requirements for monitoring will be part of the resource management and administration regs that are coming next.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA