By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Don’t Frack Katherine group (DFK) is suggesting Chief Minister Michael Gunner is going soft on fracking, selling out the people who were crucial to his election victory.
With the deadline on Thursday for public comment, the group says the draft terms of reference for the scientific panel to advise the government are “aimed only at the singular act of hydraulic fracturing, with many areas of risk lacking from the review”.
PHOTO provided by Don’t Frack Katherine shows industrialisation of the hydraulically fractured Jonah shale Gasfield, USA.
Says DFK in a media release: “Unfortunately, it would seem that despite promises, Labor has now shortened and weakened the Terms of Reference for the independent panel – now also including a representative from the gas industry – which will conduct the scientific inquiry.”
The terms of reference are “aimed only at the singular act of hydraulic fracturing, with many areas of risk lacking from the review”.
It is still unclear whether the government will appoint inspectors of drilling operations who are independent from both the government and the industry, as considered essential by Professor Tina Hunter.
Mr Gunner implemented a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of shale in the NT on September 14.
DFK says this came too late to stop Origin Energy’s Amungee Mungee well from being fractured, which was given the go ahead by CLP three days before the recent NT election.
The group seems to be wrong on this point: The Gunner Government has the option of telling the company it will not extend leases after five years, which would almost certainly motivate the company not to proceed with the project.
The apparent back-pedalling in Labor’s fracking policy has already attracted vigorous criticism from environmentalists.
“It is quite clear that Michael Gunner has not understood, or is perhaps choosing to ignore, the potential cumulative impacts underpinning the overall concerns of the majority,” says DFK.
The group quotes Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, as acknowledging that the unconventional shale gas production industry will have a bigger footprint and use significantly more water than coal seam gas.
“The industry has potential to impact landscapes, ecosystems, surface and groundwater, atmosphere, communities, and result in increased seismicity,” the group quotes Prof Chubb as saying.
“Understanding the threat will only be achieved through proper scientific study covering all aspects of this industry, not hydraulic fracturing alone. [There is need for] research into the deep shale basins and the related landscapes, water resources and ecosystems connected to them.”
This is in stark contrast to the frequent claims by the Giles Government that shale gas production is far more benign than coal seam production.
DFK says “this is a high risk industry that works remotely across vast areas, ramps up at tremendous pace and is left to self-regulate”.
In the Katherine region “both Pangaea and Origin Energy found traces of gas in ground water sampling.
“It is now up to these companies to determine where that gas has migrated from; if it has escaped the shale or another source, and if industry activity has caused it.
“These two gas companies are left to monitor these bores to track if levels increase and also to determine what contaminants exist. The water from one bore was said to have a ‘diesel like smell’.
“A recent drilling report submitted to Water Resources states a new bore within Pangaea tenement not far from shale exploration wells, had to be left for observation due to the smell of gas.
“The collection of baseline data and continued monitoring should not be left to industry under self-regulation.
“A totally independent body should be employed to collect baseline data and then monitor for changes, in order to detect any seepage and contamination. We do not want another ‘Condamine River’ example, or worse, in our own back yard.
“Failure rate of wells in the US, who use the same American Petroleum Producers approved cement and steel that will be used here in the NT, and which cannot be structurally guaranteed, is higher than originally estimated.
“Shale wells are never fully drained of all hydrocarbons, nor of the fracking fluid or formation water, they are ‘killed off’ once the well is commercially non-viable. Eventually all well integrity will fail and create migration pathways for remaining introduced and naturally occurring contaminants and toxins.
“No study has been undertaken to determine the effects on sheet water flow due to intense landscape industrialisation shale gas production will bring to almost pristine water catchment and important aquifer recharge areas,” says DFK.
“The majority of land in these basins remains relatively untouched. The semi- arid tropical savannah of the Northern Territory is rated as amongst the world’s most pristine remaining savannahs. Up until this point, there has been no real threat of contamination, over extraction or industrialisation of this ground water source.
“The unconventional oil and gas industry still sit outside of the NT Water Act. Origin Energy has used between 10 and 15 megalitres of water for the hydraulic fracturing of its Amungee Mungee well, not to forget the extra required for camp, road construction and well bore drilling.
“Despite industry assurance they would use brackish water from deep formations wherever possible, the water requirements for the Amungee Mungee well were met with potable water taken from the Gum Ridge Formation within the Georgina Basin.
“While Origin and industry defend their use by saying this is only a small amount in comparison, it is actually a very large sudden drawdown on groundwater supply, and is water that cannot be returned to our natural system.”
DFK says responses can be made on the NT Government website by October 13.
We have invited comment from the three government MLAs in The Centre, as well as the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.
When asked for comment Matt Doman, of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, pointed to a statement he made last month: “We acknowledge the new Government’s policy reflects concern in the community over the industry’s impacts – all too often stirred up by the false and exaggerated claims of opponents.
“Every reputable study confirms that, properly regulated, our industry is safe. We understand that many people are uncertain about the industry, largely because of activists’ fear campaigns. The industry is working with pastoralists, Traditional Owners and the wider community to address these concerns.”
Chansey Paech, the Member for Namatjira said: “The government has placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing across the entire Northern Territory, which is what we promised prior to the election.
“I am committed to the people of Namatjira and am making sure that the concerns of my constituents are heard.”
UPDATE 2:50am Tuesday
Jimmy Cocking, Director of the Arid Lands Environment Centre in Alice Springs, says it will make a submission by Thursday, saying the current draft is not broad enough, and fails to take into account the economic implications – competition for water with pastural and agricultural enterprises and impact on the attractiveness of the country to tourists.
It will also refer to the Paris Agreement which calls for 80% of the known reserves of fossil fuels to stay under ground, says Mr Cocking.
He also says the local Frack Free Alliance has already made a submission.
UPDATE 5:30pm Tuesday
A spokeswoman for Resources Minister Ken Vowles says an exploration permit given to Origin Energy at the Amungee well site by the Giles Government just days before the election will not allow the company to use fracking.
Mr Vowles says in a media release says: “The previous Government did not enforce the regulations in force at the time of approving this exploration permit on 23 August, just days prior to the election.
“Territory Labor’s clear policy of a moratorium on fracking came into effect on September 14.
“Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) for exploration or production will not be approved while the moratorium is in place.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA