By ERWIN CHLANDA
Two high achievers from the Hermannsburg area got together in the yard of the Lutheran Church yesterday: One is operating underground and the others could be said to be up there with the angels. A devil vs The Good Lord comparison may also be drawn by some but none of them were present at this balmy autumn afternoon that Alice Springs does so well.
The two were the oil and gas producer Central Petroleum, and the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir (above, directed by choir master Morris Stuart below right). One was celebrating a TV documentary chronicling their trip to Germany where they strained Teutonic capacity to comprehend by singing German Lutheran songs from the 1870s translated into Australian Central Desert languages by German missionaries arriving in the middle of Australia on the backs of camels.
The other was breathing a sigh of relief that the fracking moratorium is done and dusted.
Chairperson of the choir, Marion Swift, took receipt of a cheque of $34,000 from Central Petroleum, plus $30,000 from Centrecorp, $24,000 from the NT Government (matching a donation from the Australian Embassy in the US), and he acknowledged the ongoing support from Centre Bush Bus.
This money is encouraging Mr Morris’s indefatigable ambitions for the choir: Performing at the 2018 ‘Serenade! International Choral Festival in the Kennedy Centre in Washington is next, and a performance in the Sydney Opera House in June.
ALICE GAS BOOM TO START WHEN NORTHERN PIPELINE IS COMPLETED IN DECEMBER
“We are the only oil and gas producer in the Northern Territory still producing,” says Richard Cottee, Managing Director and CEO of Central Petroleum which operates the historic oil and gas fields at Mereenie and Palm Valley, near Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs.
Speaking with the Alice Springs News Online he said the company has no intention of fracking in that area: “Mereenie in the ’90s did frack, but with horizontal drilling we don’t need to.”
Mr Cottee also says the area from which Alice Springs gets its underground water is part of the Territory’s 49% that is a no-go zone for fracking.
He is clearly relieved that the NT Government’s fracking moratorium is lifted, and is looking forward to a sales bonanza, ramping up exploration and production, drilling new wells, starting in July.
“The moratorium did a lot to slow down approvals and other things,” he says.
“It was a pretty virulent campaign that wasn’t necessarily factually based.”
Was it not meant to be scientific?
“The inquiry was. The debate wasn’t. Justice Pepper did a very full and thorough investigation.
“It was certainly based on science so far as fracking was concerned. The social impact – I wonder if you can call that science – is appropriate to be brought into account as well.
“Shale gas clearly needs fracking. The moratorium said [to the industry] you are not welcome here, generally speaking, whether you frack or not frack. It was symbolic as well as actual.”
The completion of the Tennant Creek to Mt Isa pipeline, spawned at least in part by the prospect of fracking being permitted, will give Central Petroleum access to a massive new market: The eastern seaboard.
Gas is in extreme shortage there, says Mr Cottee. What people generally don’t realise “75% of gas is consumed outside electricity. The whole of the debate seems to be about 25% of the market share where it’s claimed renewables is the answer.
“It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland.”
Commodities such as fertiliser, bricks and glass need gas.
Will Central Petroleum be doing some fracking in the future?
“When we finish these wells [west of Alice Springs], if our thesis works, I don’t see any necessity to do so.”
The benefit to the Territory and Alice Springs will be substantial, says Mr Cottee: “When we ramp up we will be paying, within a couple of years, about $18m worth of royalties.
“Last year we spent over $6m in the town.”
The company has 40 staff in The Centre, soon to be raised to 50.
One third are fly-in, fly-out, one third are local Indigenous people and one third, local non-Indigenous.
“Obviously the Indigenous workers need training and hopefully over time they can progress in the ranks.”
Inquiry chairperson Justice Pepper says all her 135 recommendations need to be implemented.
Comments Mr Cottee (at left): “First of all these recommendations have to be turned into statutes. This has to go through Parliament. Then you have to have the appropriate people trained to regulate them. There really is a lot of red tape. It will certainly put a lot of weight into the saddlebag.”
Given that, how long would it take a start-up to come on stream?
“I think you would be optimistic to say you will be in full production, or selling gas, within five years in the shale gas area.
“But after five years you will have quite a bonanza.
“I was one of the founders of the coal seam gas industry and LNG. Our region was Chinchilla. It had the highest unemployment rate in Queensland and now it has the lowest.
“The towns were dying and now they are growing.
“In a democracy you will always find somebody who is displeased with what you are doing, but we still believe the majority should rule.”
How many staff will be on the ground once the exploration and well construction are completed?
“If it replicates what happens with the coal seam gas industry you will have a permanent staff of about 1000 per operator such as the Beetaloo Basin [near Elliott].”
In Alice Springs, “if our drilling campaign is successful, it will be in the hundreds” of people just on the three fields near the town “and that’s without taking in any success outside them”.
He says the town will benefit especially if other companies accept Central’s “philosophy of being anti FiFo. But we need to have experts in every discipline. You won’t find an experienced oil and gas expert on the street. You’ll never get a workforce that’s 100% local anywhere.”
What did Jemena know that we didn’t when they started building the pipeline, when it was still uncertain whether the fracking moratorium would be lifted?
Says Mr Cottee: “The pipeline presently has a capacity of 90 terajoules a day. Power and Water has already sold 32 terajoules from offshore of that to go to the Duchess phosphate mine near Mt Isa [for fertiliser production].
“And we will fill up the balance on the first of December. So it will be full on the first of December.
“Once you have the pipeline easement it can be expanded to take into account any future success.
“It’s a small size pipeline, so it will have to be duplicated. Or you can compress. With an extra compressor [half way along the pipeline] you can go to 160 terajoules.
“The reason why Jemena was investing [in the pipeline] was that they were betting that the Beetaloo region was going to be very, very prospective. And that region relies on fracking.
“They wanted to take a risk in building the pipeline on the basis of shale gas. That risk has been covered by existing one-third off-shore, two-thirds onshore existing fields.
“But they wouldn’t have done it just for that. It’s a blue sky. Everyone wants to grow.”
Summary of fundraising efforts by the choir:
Money already raised: Centrecorp Foundation $30,000; Tjwanpa Corporation $20,000; Australian Embassy (Washington DC) $24,000; Classical Movements (Washington DC) $12,000; Central Petroleum $34,000. Total received so far $120,000 of a $220,000 budget.
Grant applications awaiting notification: Australia Council $98,500, notification end April; LCA SA/NT district $15,000 ; choir members’ contribution $24,000.
Labor Senator for the NT Malarndirri McCarthy (at left) has broken ranks with her party over the lifting of the moratorium, calling the move “quite contemptuous and disgraceful” given “the passion of people across the Territory” on the issue.
“It was a sad day for the NT.”
Senator McCarthy says the decision had to be made under “enormous pressure” from the Federal leadership with cuts to the GST, health and education, and the housing agreement.
She would like to have a direct conversation with Mr Gunner on the issue at some time.
Senator McCarthy says she wants to be briefed about how the inquiry’s recommendations will be implemented, and about the newly formed body.