By ERWIN CHLANDA
The new NT Government is having its first brawl with normally like-minded groups – over fracking, an issue that new Member for Braitling, Dale Wakefield, who unseated the former Chief Minister, described as “big” in the campaign.
Michael Gunner announced this morning he’s “getting on with the job of delivering on our election commitment” of imposing “a moratorium on fracking”.
Far from it, says Naomi Hogan (above, right), of the Lock the Gate Alliance, claiming the “limited fracking moratorium falls far short of his election promises and will allow extensive shale gas activities and corehole drilling to continue across the Territory”.
This is a long way from what Labor had promised, she says, namely that it “will implement a moratorium covering all unconventional gas prospecting exploration and extraction activities.
“Now, after the first Cabinet meeting of the new Labor Government, the promise has been wound back to a moratorium that only covers the process of hydraulic fracturing, giving a green light to all prospecting and other shale gas exploration activities,” says Ms Hogan.
Meanwhile the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) says it “cautiously welcomes” the moratorium on fracking but questions why exploration for unconventional gas is allowed to continue.
Labor’s election promise was to “implement a moratorium covering all unconventional gas prospecting exploration and extraction activities” while “this morning’s announcement states that the moratorium will now only apply to the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) itself,” says ALEC, claiming there “is never going to be social license” for the process.
“It’s now clear that Territory Labor has backflipped on their election promise for a total pause on all unconventional gas activities,” says Ms Hogan.
“This barely-there fracking moratorium is a betrayal to all the people that voted for Labor because they had promised a full pause on the gas fracking industry in the Territory.
“Territory landholders have been crying out for a break from gas fracking companies, but Chief Minister Gunner is basically forcing pastoralists to continue to deal with gas companies entering their land.
“He is governing for big oil and gas, not the people who voted him into office.
“Under this so called moratorium, gas fracking companies can still undertake other shale gas prospecting and exploration activities, trying to muscle in on the right to frack through our groundwater into the future.
“Gas companies will be able to keep on drilling gas wells across the landscape, ready to frack as soon as the opportunity arises,” she says.
But Mr Gunner says: “We heard loud and clear the concerns of everyday Territorians, pastoralists, amateur and commercial fishermen, tourism operators, traditional owners, Indigenous rangers and environmental groups.”
• Is Territory-wide. Fracking will not be approved across the entire Northern Territory.
• Applies to hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs, as well as the use of Diagnostic Fracture Injection Testing (DFIT).
• Applies to hydraulic fracturing under any permit or licence. This means fracking will not be approved whether it is for exploration or extraction.
• Is prospective, not retrospective. The moratorium does not apply to existing approvals, of which there is only one remaining case, of which the fracking component is now finished.
As part of the moratorium, a thorough investigation into the effects of fracking will be undertaken by an expert panel, with expertise in geology, ecology, hydrogeology, ecotoxicology, geochemistry and environmental regulation, says Mr Gunner in a media statement.
Public consultation sessions and meetings will be held in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and other regional communities, “ensuring the collective voice of the community is heard”.
Says ALEC spokesperson Nicole Putsch (at left): “The moratorium is only on the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, and still allows companies to undertake land-clearing, seismic testing and drilling core holes in exploring for unconventional gas.
“Landholders still have no right to say no to unconventional gas exploration on their land. This announcement sends a mixed message to the gas industry and the community.
“Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s statements at the oil and gas summit in Darwin this morning seemed to indicate that fracking will be able to go ahead once social license from Northern Territorians is gained,” says Nicole Pietsch.
“But there is never going to be social license from the community. Territorians don’t want to see our precious landscapes turned into industrial gasfields. We don’t want to risk contamination of our groundwater, and impacts on our environment and health.”
Mr Gunner has just released the following statement:
Today Territory Labor fulfilled its election commitment to implement a moratorium on fracking.
Claims made today that Territory Labor has not fulfilled its commitment to implement a moratorium on fracking are wrong.
We have implemented a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for exploration and extraction across the whole of the Territory, while an independent scientific investigation and public consultation is undertaken.
It is exactly what we promised to do before the election. And it’s exactly what I announced today.