Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?


24107 fracking report 3 OK
24107 fracking report 4 OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
“No industry is completely without risk. And the development of any onshore shale gas industry in the NT is no exception,” states the conclusion of the “draft Final Report” by the inquiry into fracking, released yesterday.
Its chairperson, Justice Rachel Pepper, makes it clear that “it is not the role of the Inquiry to make a recommendation whether or not the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the NT should be lifted. That is a matter for Government”.
Nevertheless she says “the conclusion of this Inquiry is that the challenges and risks associated with any onshore shale gas industry in the NT are manageable”.
That is, provided a string of things are done first, spelt out in 120 recommendations after receiving evidence contained in over 500 submissions and presented in 105 public hearings and 29 community forums across the Territory.
The Opposition clearly thinks this report is the green light for fracking: Leader Gary Higgins says “developing our onshore gas industry will drive business confidence and job opportunities in the Territory.
“Onshore gas will provide a long term economic future for the Northern Territory.
“It is time for the Chief Minister to show real leadership and get the best practise regulations in place to allow exploration to commence in the upcoming dry season,” says Mr Higgins.
On the other side, fracking opponent Lock the Gate Alliance is welcoming the report because it “identifies a host of risks associated with fracking gasfields, including the potential to harm drinking water and public health and spread contaminants.
“This report confirms what thousands of concerned Territorians have been saying, that fracking gasfields come with a myriad of risks that would put an incredible burden on the Territory,” says national coordinator Naomi Hogan.
24107 fracking report 5 OK“Even with 120 recommendations to attempt to avoid the worst of the fracking pollution risks, the Panel finds that there is significant potential for accidental releases, leaks and spills of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and fluids, flowback and produced water.
“We could be buried under the weight of all the risks and potential negative impacts coming from the fracking industry.
“Recommendations for mining reform will not be enough to protect Territory land, water and livelihoods from fracking gasfield impacts.”
The litany of recommendations, far from being precise instructions of what needs to be done, are headlines of issues for which instructions would need to be formulated.
The recommendations are littered with words such as appropriate, strong, essential, acceptable, comprehensive, independent which require definition and provide opportunity for political manipulation.
Recommended are:-
• releasing land that is environmentally, socially and culturally appropriate for use for shale gas development;
• the completion of a SREBA (strategic regional environmental and baseline assessment) to gather essential baseline data prior to any onshore shale gas industry being developed;
• implementing an area or regional-based approval system (raising the question who will be appointed to that and by whom?)
• mandating world leading engineering standards for the construction, maintenance and de-commissioning of all onshore shale gas wells and for the extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing;
• implementing new technologies where relevant as soon as they become available;
• requiring the comprehensive monitoring and reporting of all aspects of onshore shale gas operations with real-time public scrutiny of the resulting data;
• ensuring that the regulator is independent insofar as the agency that is responsible for promoting any onshore shale gas resource is not the same agency responsible for its regulation;
24107 fracking report 2 OK• reforming the current regulatory framework governing onshore shale gas development in the NT to strengthen transparency and accountability of all decision-making and to ensure a stringent system of compliance and enforcement; and
• introducing full fee recovery to fund the necessary regulatory reforms and to ensure that strong oversight is maintained.
“Of course, nothing is guaranteed,” says the report, “and with any new industry it is not uncommon for problems to emerge.
“However, it is the Panel’s opinion that, provided that the recommendations made in this Report are adopted and implemented, not only should the risk of any harm be minimised to an acceptable level, in some instances, it can be avoided altogether.”
Further evidence will be obtained in more hearings, plus a fresh consultation of people in the Beetaloo Basin is taking place (the first was botched by the consultants’ “unacceptable conduct”).
The report ends on a poetic and philosophical note, including words from American conservationist Rachel Carson whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement, met with fierce opposition from chemical companies and led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides: “In short, the Panel is of the opinion that with enactment of robust and rigorously enforced safeguards, the waters shall continue to flow ‘clear and cold out of the hills’ and the dawn chorus of Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Budgerigars, Black Kites, Blue-winged Kookaburras and scores of other bird voices shall continue to reverberate across the NT landscape notwithstanding the development of any onshore shale gas industry.”
PHOTOS from the report (from top): Community members at the Inquiry’s Jilkminggan community forum in August 2017. • Amungee NW-1H wellsite in EP98 during drilling operations (30-60 days): Source Origin • High flow in Newcastle Creek. Source: Matt Bolam •  Bameranji Waterhole, Hayfield Station 2017 •
UPDATE 7am December 14
Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC): Fracking will never be accepted by the NT community. Most Territorians do not want to see the NT turned into industrial gasfields.
If the McArthur Basin (in north-eastern NT) alone is fracked it could release four to five times as much greenhouse gas emissions as the proposed Adani Carmichael mine.
Fracking the Territory is not in line with the NT Government’s ambition to meet its 50% renewable energy target by 2030 and the NT Government hasn’t even developed a climate policy to reduce emissions yet.
Health Care Professionals Against Fracking: Even if all 120 of its recommendations were to be implemented, there would still be an acknowledged risk to the health of individuals and the communities in which they live. We find this unacceptable.
Onshore shale gas fracking is still a relatively recent industry. As such, despite all the evidence collected throughout the Inquiry, there are still significant gaps in knowledge about long term health, social and environmental impacts this industry could have for Territorians and our unique circumstances.
This draft report points out that, at this stage, there is insufficient evidence to make a reasonable assessment as to the health impacts that fracking might have in areas such as birth defects, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, just to name a few.


  1. The inquiry’s reference to Silent Spring is an abhorrent and perverted tactic to legitimise an industry that offers nothing but greed, contamination and conflict.
    Carson would be turning in her grave if she knew her ideas were being used in this way.
    Fracking of shale gas in the US has lead to a contamination legacy comparably only to the days of DDT and other pesticides. It is an environmental catastrophe and we know this.
    That fundamental flaw in this inquiry is the consistent use of subjective terms in an objective way. What is meant when they conclude risk can be mitigated to an acceptable level?
    Is that one contaminated aquifer? Is that a 1% increase in premature births? Is it .1% increase in warming? Is it a 2% increase in road fatalities?
    They don’t decide what risk is acceptable, that is not a question for science or law.
    That is one for the people of the NT to decide and they have decided. No risk is worth the financial gain that is made by a few select corporate individuals.

  2. The release of the draft final report of the inquiry into unconventional onshore fracking in the NT comes just two days after the 50th anniversary of Project Gasbuggy in New Mexico, USA.
    On December 10, 1967, the US Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 29 kiloton underground nuclear explosion to test this method for fracking for natural gas.
    It was the first of three such tests conducted in the US which was a part of a wider program (called Operation Plowshare) to find civil engineering uses for atom bombs.
    Project Gasbuggy was of direct relevance to Central Australia because great expectations were held of this method for potential use in the new Mereenie gas field.
    In fact, Magellan Petroleum had already applied to the US and Australian Atomic Energy Commissions for a licence to conduct nuclear fracking in The Centre.
    Hopes were dashed when the gas extracted from the test sites consistently proved too contaminated with radioactive particles to be safely used; and the new method of hydraulic fracturing helped bring to an end the research program of Operation Plowshare in the mid 1970s.
    Of course, it is unconventional onshore hydraulic fracking that now lies at the heart of the current controversy.

  3. Well let’s get drilling. The rest of Australia needs our gas. Jobs for people in all our communities. Would be nice to have cheaper power for all Australians.
    The sience has spoken and the tiny risk is worth taking for gains to all the community.
    How can Mr Gunner work through this one? He took the votes from those who say no to gas but he needs the income from gas for the Territory.

  4. Darren, I always love the “jobs for people” mantra. Always makes me laugh.
    We already have a healthy gasfield 200 km to the west of Alice Springs (Mereenie). People working out there have a high probability of living here. How many people do you know work there?
    Because I have to say I have never met one. Met a lot of public servants and people working in the indigenous service industry.
    Now, when I lived in Perth almost every street had someone working in the Pilbara. I’m not saying there won’t be jobs, I just don’t believe in the numbers splashed around by the mining industry.
    Let’s hope the east coast are prepared to sell us water at a cheaper rate than us selling them gas – because we most likely will need their water more than they will need our gas, once we have that 1st – opps! “didn’t know that would happen” accident concerning the aquifers.

  5. The Territory has along history of mines etc making a mess, then claiming they went bust and yep, you guessed it, after years of abandoned contamination the cleanup falls on the public purse.

  6. Peter, Darren is correct, there will be more jobs and work for people in health care, in counselling and for the undertakers.

  7. As usual we shall find in the end that multi national corporations and their greedy Australian shareholders, crooked politicians and the like will once again make a fracking joke of Australia.

  8. It’s the old story: “There are problems, but they are manageable.”
    Let the government be aware of the attitudes of NT voters re fracking. The voters are the people to be affected; they know that we depend absolutely on the quality of the groundwater that we use.
    Anything constituting a risk in that area is lunacy, both in health and political terms. Leave the gas where it is. Harness the sun, the wind and the tides for energy.

  9. “Harness the sun, the wind and the tides for energy.”
    About those tides: Electricity is generated from motion. Wind works, as do turbines whether powered by coal, gas or uranium. And tides?
    In Darwin tides are reportedly up to eight meters twice a day with a million tonnes of water flowing by at high tide. Why doesn’t someone stick a wheel into that?
    Or, of course, we could probably generate enough power to run a dim globe or two if we harnessed the power in the revolving doors in our government house.

  10. @ Hal Duell (Posted December 15, 2017 at 10:56 am): There have been several proposals and experimental projects for tapping into tidal power around Australia, including the northern coastline.
    In the mid 1990s experimental work for harnessing tidal power in the Apsley Strait (which divides Melville and Bathurst Islands of the Tiwi islands) was conducted in a joint project by the Northern Territory University (now CDU) and the Power and Water Authority. Nothing seems to have come of it.
    If I recall correctly, the Member for Nelson, Gerry Wood, suggested more recently that Apsley Strait (which is directly north of Darwin) be investigated for harnessing tidal power.
    It does seem to be an obvious location for such a facility.

  11. No problems or worries about gas down here in Mexico. The Andrews government has a total moratorium on all land gas exploration and extraction, whether by conventional or fracking.
    Plus the shutdown of Hazelwood. With summer upon us. And the hot air supply of Parliament House temporarily reduced with the pollies going on holidays.
    Trillions of litres of gas by conventional means under our feet, the gift waiting for China in the fulness of time not too far away.
    Ah yes. The Garden State. Utopia.

  12. Who wants this – the wealthy like Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest, Gina Rinehart or the Chinese. Whoever it is they want to use work for the dole or low paid migrants to work for them without having to pay them, pay no tax, frack into the artesian basin and drain the water from it so they contaminate the water and make millions for their own private use while big-noting themselves and putting their victims on Indue and Income Management.
    What the workers will be paid is about $300 a week and they will probably have to work eight to 10 hours a day for up to a month and then perhaps get a few days off.
    In the meantime they will lose their health and have their lives shortened by 20 odd years.

  13. Mineral and petroleum royalties paid to WA’s government rose by 24% to $5.7 billion in 2016-17.
    The 2017-18 NT budget is worth $8.1 billion.
    Northern Territory’s Labor Government has once again hit $5.5 billion in projected debt.

  14. @ Jack (Posted December 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm): You are cherry picking your facts about WA, Jack, in order to make a misleading point.
    Notwithstanding the rise of mineral and petroleum royalties paid to the WA government as you claim, the state debt is nevertheless projected to reach $42.9 billion in two years from now.
    The WA economy is in a considerable mess thanks to the reckless overspending of the budget during the mining boom a few years ago.
    What’s more, it was a Liberal-National government that has left WA so deeply in debt, not a Labor government – which kind of shatters the popular view that conservative governments are better at economic management, at least as far as the “Sandgropers” are concerned.
    The salutary lesson to learn from the west is that windfall bonanzas from mining and energy industries provide no guarantee of lasting economic benefit, irrespective of which mainstream political party is in power. And that’s not taking into account the revenue foregone by complex and tricky accounting practices that allow large mining corporations to minimize or avoid completely the paying of taxes and royalties in the first place.
    We’re all being taken for fools, and perhaps we deserve it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here