By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Gunner Government is clearly in as much of a hurry as the Giles Government was to get the Tennant Creek to Mt Isa gas pipeline built – without ticking some important boxes.
There is already a flurry of activity in Tennant Creek, including delivery of about a quarter of the pipes needed, while two key environmental issues are still up in the air.
The NT Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), operating under Minister Lauren Moss, has recommended the go-ahead but with some very substantial reservations.
The EPA says: “The proponent [Jemena] did not provide the necessary information to allow the NT EPA to adequately assess the potential impacts and risks to water resources and road safety as an issue associated with increased traffic movement from construction vehicles on the Barkly Highway, and other roads.”
And: “Any licence issued under the Energy Pipelines Act should include a condition that impacts to all semi-permanent and permanent pools in the Ranken, James and Georgina Rivers that intersect or are proximate to the area of disturbance by the Northern Gas Pipeline be avoided.”
In other words, the EPA is saying these issues have to be fixed but it can’t give advice about how because it has been kept in the dark. It is not clear why Ms Moss hasn’t put her foot down and demanded answers from Jemena.
Under the protocol in place Ms Moss (at left) will now deliver the EPA recommendation to Resources Minster Ken Vowles (top, right) who will then need to get advice from elsewhere on what to do about traffic and water safety.
Clearly, anything going wrong will be on his head. This is all he would say today: “The Northern Territory Government is currently working through the appropriate approval processes for the Northern Gas Pipeline.”
The EPA says in its assessment report: “This document has been prepared with all due diligence and care, based on the best available information at the time of publication.”
The EPA considers it has done its job, and has given clear direction in its eight recommendations that it is washing its hands of the traffic and water issues.
Meanwhile Greg Marlow, the chair of the Regional Development Committee in Tennant Creek, says significant developments are already under way.
The first of four shipment of pipes has arrived in the town, enough for about 130 km of pipeline.
They are stored in a “lay down area” constructed north of town, near the old horse abattoirs.
Two contracts have been let to local companies, and locals have been employed checking the pipes.
Mr Marlow says the construction company, the multi-national McConnell Dowell, is scheduled to start the nine-month job in late April.
Jemena provided the following statement: “We welcome the EPA assessment. Jemena is confident it can meet all recommendations made by the EPA, including those relating to the management of water resources and road safety.
“Jemena is committed to and has conducted a thorough environmental impact assessment process over a two-year period. This included extensive public and community consultations, as well as rigorous assessment by a team of independent environmental experts. These assessments found the [pipeline] poses a low risk to the environment when managed appropriately.
“In order to meet the project’s proposed commencement date, Jemena has stockpiled pipe in Tennant Creek and has commenced recruitment activities in the local community – including recruitment of individuals facing significant barriers to employment.
“Jemena will bear any risk associated with its decision to commence this work if approvals are not provided in accordance with Jemena’s expectations.
“The decision to approve the NGP for construction is currently with the responsible Minister, and as such is a matter for government.”
Cart before the horse on gas pipeline?
By ERWIN CHLANDA