By ERWIN CHLANDA
A species of tiny creatures that have recently been found to be living right across aquifers of the gas-rich Beetaloo basin north of Tennant Creek are indicating that the underground water systems are connected.
This means fracking planned for the area must be delayed until any possible risks to “businesses, communities, and iconic places like the Mataranka Springs” are explored, as the Pepper Inquiry into hydraulic fracturing demanded, says Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer.
Similar requirements have blocked for 10 years the $3.6 billion proposal for 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga region in NSW, touted to meet half the state’s gas needs, until Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley gave the all clear recently.
Mr Sawyer says in the NT the CSIRO’s just released initial report on water sampling “confirms the worst fears of Territorians about risks to groundwater if fracking goes ahead as planned”.
Among the report’s findings was that low genetic divergence of several species of the aquatic animals, known as stygofauna, across a distance of around 260km meant there was a high level of interconnectedness between aquifers, some with less than 2.2% diversity across the entire sampling range.
“Due to the high degree of subterranean aquatic connectivity, the report shows there is a significant risk of widespread contamination in the event of a fracking pollution event,” says Mr Sawyer.
“The Gunner Government must now put in place a moratorium on fracking at least until these serious contamination risks are totally removed.
“Fracking companies are already pumping hundreds of thousands of litres of chemicals such as biocides, that are extremely toxic to aquatic organisms with long lasting effects, into the ground in the Beetaloo.
“This report shows a spill or a leak at a fracking well could have devastating consequences for the drinking water of a community, bore water of a farm, or hot spring site.
“Fracking wells will leak at some point in the future. A 50mm concrete barrier, which is all that’s put in place at the moment, will not protect our water systems.”
He says the stygofauna, measuring only a few millimetres, are also “incredibly vital for cleaning the water accessed by communities and businesses across the NT. Groundwater is the basis of life and economic prosperity in these regions.
“If stygofauna are destroyed due to a fracking spill, or methane leaks, the quality of water will also suffer.
“The Pepper Inquiry never gave the green light to fracking. It said reports like this groundwater study needed to be completed before final decisions could be made.”