By KIERAN FINNANE
The Town Council will ask the Chief Minister to put the Alice Springs Water Control District specifically off limits for shale gas exploration as well as production.
This is a precisely defined area extending well beyond the boundaries of the municipality, stretching roughly 50 kms east and west of the town, 70 kms south, and 30 kms north (see map at bottom for the area outlined in blue).
Despite energies flagging from a marathon debate over the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, a majority councillors last night backed Cr Marli Banks (pictured) in her endeavour to wring from government more tightly defined protection for the town’s water supply now that it has lifted the moratorium on fracking for shale gas.
Cr Banks was dissatisfied with a response from the Chief Minister Michael Gunner to previous correspondence from council concerning protection of the water supply.
Council had asked for clarification and definition of “areas of strategic importance” that the government had committed to protect. Mr Gunner’s letter, dated 5 April, failed to provide any such definition. It said rather that the government is continuing to “assess areas for oil and gas exploration, giving regard to strategic importance”.
It said government will not approve oil and gas exploration and development in areas of ecological significance, residential areas or where oil and gas developments are “not compatible”. These “may include” dams, farms, national parks and areas of cultural significance.
Ms Banks’ successful motion also reiterated council’s opposition to lifting the moratorium on onshore shale gas fracking. It was supported by Councillors Jimmy Cocking (seconder), Catherine Satour, Eli Melky and Glen Auricht.
Mayor Damien Ryan’s vote was unclear. He was attending the meeting by phone and just as he was about to vote, the line dropped out. Multiple attempts to reconnect failed.
He had initially argued that council had got what it wanted, an assurance from Mr Gunner “that the Alice Springs water supply is protected now and into the future” (the generalised terms of council’s original motion). Deputy Mayor Jamie de Benni also thought this was “enough to be moving forward with”. Cr Jacinta Price voted against the motion but did not take part in the debate.
Mayor Ryan then wanted to delay the debate until next month’s committee meetings, supported in this by Cr Matt Paterson, as a matter for good governance.
And finally Mayor Ryan wanted to get the regional councils on side first.
Cr Banks said the motion gave council an opportunity to engage with the regional councils and pressed for a vote to be taken, which is when the Mayor’s phone problems started.
By KIERAN FINNANE