NT pow­ers up as re­al­ity bites

Hys­ter­i­cal op­po­si­tion to well-reg­u­lated fracking is base­less

The Australian - - COMMENTARY -

While hy­draulic frac­tur­ing (fracking) has cre­ated an oil and gas boom in the US dur­ing the past decade, most states in Aus­tralia have been captive to repro­bate green groups, to the detri­ment of en­ergy se­cu­rity and af­ford­abil­ity. North­ern Ter­ri­tory Chief Min­is­ter Michael Gun­ner has made an im­por­tant de­ci­sion for the Ter­ri­tory’s econ­omy and the na­tion’s en­ergy sup­ply, rev­ers­ing his gov­ern­ment’s ban on fracking. Just over half of the NT will be open to the de­vel­op­ment of shale gas. The move should be copied by the states, in­clud­ing Vic­to­ria, that had banned con­ven­tional gas ex­plo­ration as well as fracking de­spite se­vere power prob­lems. Al­ready, the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in South Aus­tralia, which has some of the world’s most ex­pen­sive power, has im­posed a mora­to­rium on fracking in the south­east.

The Ter­ri­tory’s move made em­i­nent sense af­ter a re­port by NT Jus­tice Rachel Pep­per found risks as­so­ci­ated with fracking could be man­aged. Na­tional parks, res­i­den­tial, con­ser­va­tion and indige­nous pro­tected ar­eas and cul­tural sites will re­main off lim­its. The NT’s rev­enue will be boosted, to the ben­e­fit of tax­pay­ers across the na­tion who have bankrolled the Ter­ri­tory for decades de­spite lack of ac­count­abil­ity and fail­ure to di­rect money to ar­eas of chronic need, such as Abo­rig­i­nal dis­ad­van­tage. A “re­turn to tax­pay­ers” through gas roy­al­ties, Mr Gun­ner said, could start from the early to mid-2020s. As it raises more of its own rev­enue, the NT needs to be­come more re­spon­si­ble in spend­ing and ac­count­ing for it.

The first ex­plo­ration is ex­pected early next year. En­ergy com­pa­nies re­sponded yes­ter­day, high­light­ing the vast re­sources avail­able in the NT and their po­ten­tial to cre­ate thou­sands of new jobs and power sev­eral Aus­tralian cap­i­tal cities. As En­ergy Min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg said, de­vel­op­ment of NT gas could not come soon enough with gas play­ing an in­creas­ing role in set­ting the price of elec­tric­ity. When the NT is in the dol­drums, the two-year mora­to­rium stalled or wasted at least $200 mil­lion worth of in­vest­ment. Yes­ter­day’s de­ci­sion was long over­due but bet­ter late than never. If Aus­tralia’s power cri­sis is to be over­come, all states must em­brace gas ex­trac­tion.

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