Fracking interim report: Two bob each way?


2460 fracking map OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
“The anxiety, if not hostility, surrounding fracking was on display during the first round of community consultations held by the Inquiry.
“Overwhelmingly, the message received from the people who attended these meetings was that fracking was not safe, was not trusted and was not wanted in the NT.”
Surely then, should that not be putting the lid on the whole fracking issue?
But then again, “having said this, it should be recognised that these are not universally held views.
“Many (how many?) groups and individuals have expressed the opinion to the inquiry that properly regulated (what is properly?) and adequately safeguarded (what is adequate?), the onshore extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing could be beneficial (could it be the opposite?) for the Territory, creating employment opportunities and raising much-needed (how much needed?) revenue.”
These quotes are from the Summary of the InterIm Report published by the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing of Unconventional Reservoirs in the Northern Territory. The questions in brackets are ours.
The 290 submissions are published on the web, but while we can put a face to the 1000 people who gave their views at 37 public meetings, and – to a point – the 181 in online feedback, the opinions expressed in other types of consultation are far less overt. Who are the submittors? Who’s behind them?
So what is the enquiry all about? It makes clear what it is not: “The ultimate task of this Inquiry is not to recommend to the Government that it retain or lift the moratorium presently in place— that is a matter for the Government.”
That is clearly so, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the government – showing its cards by its enthusiastic support for the northern pipeline – is going to cherrypick the final report due by the end of the year and say: “As the enquiry pointed out …”
For the record, “the work of the Inquiry is to, based on the most current and best available relevant scientific data and literature, assess the environmental, social, cultural and economic risks associated with hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the NT.
“In doing so, the Inquiry must sort fact from fiction and weigh up claim and counter-claim in making its assessments and in formulating its recommendations.
“Following the risk assessment, the [inquiry] panel will determine the mitigation measures that are available to reduce the levels of risk to acceptable levels.”
Let’s get this clear: The inquiry takes the view that there are mitigation measures, and that they are capable “to reduce the levels of risk to acceptable levels”. Acceptable to whom?
“The primary and most consistently raised issue across all community forums was the potential impact … on water resources (surface water and groundwater) in the NT, both in respect of human use and dependent ecosystems.”
If the methodology of the inquiry were democratic instead of scientific, then this would be the end of the process: The majority is against fracking, so here shall be none of it.
“The adequacy of the regulatory framework … was a key concern for participants at the community forums. The panel observed the community’s lack of faith in the current regulatory framework to adequately, or in some instances, at all, protect the environment … as well as a general distrust in the NT Government to make decisions in the best interests of the community.”
Does majority rule here?
“The most frequently raised potential adverse social impacts … on local communities related to rapid increases in population, conflict in the community between those for and against gas development, an influx of Fly-in, Fly-out workers and the negative impacts of a “cash splash” (a rapid injection of money into the community).
“There was a significant amount of scepticism expressed about the true value of any economic benefit created by shale gas development, especially in terms of employment, public revenue generation and royalties.
“There was a strong belief that those who bore the risks of the development would not receive the benfits. Many participants considered that investing in onshore unconventional shale gas, rather than in renewable energy, would result in an opportunity cost to the community and to the Government and that the Government should not be ‘investing in a declining industry’.”
The “yes, but” approach pervades the interim report: “There is evidence to indicate that well integrity has been an issue for the onshore shale gas industry; however, recent technological improvements in the design and construction of shale wells has resulted in a considerably improved performance in the integrity of modern wells when compared to earlier wells and legacy wells.
“Effective water management will be crucial to the potential development of any unconventional onshore shale gas industry in the NT.
“This involves first ensuring that water is used at a sustainable level, and second, ensuring that surface and groundwater quality is maintained.
“The Inquiry has reviewed and summarised the available information relating to NT water resources, the production and composition of waste waters produced by the hydraulic fracturing process, and the management, treatment and possible reuse of these waste waters.
“The Beetaloo Sub-basin (between Tennant Creek and Katherine) is used in the Interim Report as a case study for a preliminary analysis of water resources and water use because it is the most prospective area in the NT for shale gas development, and, importantly, it is the region where the best information is available.”
Portions of the report are upbeat about fracking.
“The panel’s preliminary assessment is that the impact of onshore shale gas operations on surface water supply in semi-arid (such as the Beetaloo Sub-basin) and arid areas of the NT is relatively low.
“Where adequate toxicological information is available, the chemicals used in fracturing fluid appear to have low toxicity, and at the concentrations used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, ingestion would be unlikely to represent an acute health risk.
“The panel is still investigating the potential for contamination of drinking water aquifers if leakage of wastewater was to occur as a result of leakage from the well itself or from a spill.
“Further information is being sought on the likelihood that contaminated wastewater would seep through the soil profile and what dilution and dispersion would occur within the aquifer.
“The design and implementation of a robust regulatory framework is the principal way in which the NT Government can facilitate the development of any onshore unconventional shale gas industry in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and in conformity with community expectations.
“Submissions to the Panel have indicated that the current system of governance for onshore unconventional gas development is deficient and needs to be strengthened to ensure these goals are met. The panel agrees.”
You can just hear spin doctors chiming in: “We are going to have the most robust and strong regulatory system in the whole wide world.”
Dark grey areas: Extent of prospective source rocks.
Red hatched area: Beetaloo Sub-basin.
Orange dots: Non-fractured conventional sandstone wells.
Green dots: Fractured conventional sandstone wells.
Blue dots: Non-fractured unconventional shale wells.
Yellow dots: Fractured unconventional shale wells.


  1. Two days to register to be part of the next round of the inquiry. Be sure to voice your opinion to the panel.

  2. The integrity of your reporting is compromised by the inflammatory questions inserted into your “factual” reporting of what is in the interim report. The key statement in the published report, is “to sort fact from fiction.” Regrettably so much fiction has been presented to the enquiry. Mark says “be sure to voice your opinion,” but this enquiry is NOT about opinion, but about real science in the matter of the utilisation of a major resource that is badly needed by our nation.
    Come on Erwin, again – report facts. If you want to state your opinion, say so, and use a different banner. “Alice Springs News” should be just that!

  3. Whatever the risks there two risks not discussed in your report, Erwin, and maybe in the inquiry.
    Methane escape is a big factor with coal seam and I understand with shale too. This is a serious pollutant and we must avoid any more at all cost.
    Increasing gas supplies will add to the CO2 burden on the atmosphere.
    I don’t know how seriously the NT Government sees it but my reading is that we must take EVERY step to reduce this as RAPIDLY as possible.
    That means renewable energy investment NOW not focus on gas.

  4. @ Graeme Lewis, Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm: Thank you for your comment. However, your inverted commas around “factual” are unwarranted. I am making perfectly clear what is reporting and what are the questions I am raising. See the paragraph following.
    Kind regards, Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  5. The most frightening words in Mr Bentley’s comments are “at all cost”. Those who have adopted the ant-fracking campaign as an alternative religion are quite happy for the poorest in our community to bear the cost of the NT moratorium.
    Ask the pensioners in Adelaide and Melbourne who can’t afford to use their heaters this winter if they are prepared to pay this cost for the NT government’s act of faith in the new religion.
    The cost will certainly not be paid by those others who take their incomes from the tax payer at a much higher level, or those funded by overseas based, well funded activist organisations funding the propaganda campaign here.
    I’ll be impressed when George Soros, Get Up, Greenpeace, et al start paying the pensioners’ energy bills.
    That would be a good political move to promote their new religion. I might be more inclined to listen to their evangelising then.

  6. I don’t think this is about the science.
    The agenda of the engineers is to build a good mine and I think if they learn all the lessons they can build a good mine that meets all the things expected of it.
    The real problems follow that because then the mine passes to the owners, whose agenda is to maximize their profits, and the government whose nominal agenda is to ensure compliance with standards but who are often beholden to the mining companies for party donations, promises of future lucrative employment etc.
    In addition there is no meaningful penalty for either the mining company or the government officials concerned when it all goes belly up. This is where the real danger lies. Corporate greed and governments owing their allegiance to mining companies instead of the electorate.
    On the bright side, I am sure they will say “sorry” as they drive out the gate after destroying the environment.

  7. My criticism of your report stands. Report facts or editorialise, but make it plain which it is, for all to see. I submit that you failed to do this.
    Same goes for what Richard Bentley has posted. Let’s see fact about “methane escape.”
    Does such a statement have validity? If so, was it put to the scientific enquiry?
    As for gas supply adding to the CO2 burden, does this guy prefer coal? Or does he want to live without electricity until someone builds enough solar panels that will keep the lights on all night. Dreams!

  8. Just to add to my comment below I think the real issue is that post construction neither of the parties, the mine owners or the government, have as their main objective the goal of maintaining mines to a standard that will ensure environmental safety.
    There is no penalty sufficient to ensure it and consequently corners are cut, standards dropped, inspections not done or poorly done.
    Next thing we know another farm has it’s water supply destroyed and everyone moves on the next uncontaminated site. Meanwhile the parties get their donations, former politicians walk into lucrative sinecures and mining companies scratch around under the couch to pay their fines.

  9. Dave, the high price of gas has nothing to do with a shortage of gas. There is plenty if gas around. Just check out how much Australia exports. The gas shortage is a con job.

  10. Mike Smith has hit the nail on the head. I would be all for fracking in the Territory, provided the fracking companies could indemnify me and every Territorian against loss and damages resulting from their activities, including loss / contamination of water / air and the loss in value of real estate property in the nearby towns and communities affected by contamination.
    As a practising professional, I need to provide that assurance, and I cannot see why mining companies are allowed to dump all the risk onto us, the community.
    The truth is that no insurance company would give the fracking companies such a policy, and deep down we all know the reason why.

  11. Hi Graeme, did you read the interim report? It acknowledges significant issues and knowledge gaps around fugitive methane emissions.
    Hi Dave, Fracking the NT for international export has nothing to do with the energy bills of cold pensioners.

  12. @ True But: How about looking at the What If? It is clear there have been issues in the past, so What If the water supply becomes contaminated? Really now what do we do?
    We can go without electricity for a week but without potable water you’re dead.
    Whilst electricity is a commodity, water is essential. So we are at the mercy of the greedy!
    No thanks, I’ll take water over electricity any day.
    Yep, very inconvenient, but we’ll all live!
    Remember the unpleasant fact that he who controls the energy controls the world.


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