GUNNER SAYS YES TO FRACKING
The Labor Government will today lift its onshore shale gas extraction ban, clearing the way for a vital boost to the Territory’s economy
THE TERRITORY Government will today lift its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of onshore gas.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner will announce the decision this morning, ending an 18-month standoff over the controversial practice.
Mr Gunner’s office refused to comment last night, but it’s understood Cabinet signed off on the final details of its response yesterday, following an independent scientific inquiry into the practice, better known as fracking.
That inquiry, headed by Justice Rachel Pepper, found the risks associated with fracking could be mitigated, if not eliminated, if the proper recommendations were put in place.
It’s understood the Government will implement most, if not all, of the 135 recommendations from Justice Pepper’s final report.
Environmentalists and some pastoralists have run a strong campaign opposing fracking. They disagree with Justice Pepper’s assessment that the risks can be effectively mitigated, and have argued fracking could pollute local rivers and bores.
Left-wing think tank The Australia Institute has also argued the increase in greenhouse gases from fracking would be unacceptable, and that opening up new sources of fossil fuels like shale gas is “completely incompatible with Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement”.
But the business community and mining companies say the Government cannot ignore the industry’s potential economic benefits now Justice Pepper’s report has found the risks can be mitigated or eliminated.
MMC Australia general manager Owen Pike, who has led the pro-fracking campaign, said the decision to lift the moratorium would not immediately inject cash into the economy.
But he said it would give confidence that the economy would recover and that the flat jobs market would turn around.
“Given the level of public consultation and fight from local business to get this industry here, a yes decision allows local business to honourably demand opportunities for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Last week Jemena, the company building the Northern Gas Pipeline between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa, said it would begin work on a $4 billion expansion of the project as soon as next year if the moratorium was lifted, provided the restrictions put in place still allowed gas reserves in the Beetaloo Basin to be developed quickly.
That could be a major hiccup though, as one of Justice Pepper’s recommendations is that exploration only be allowed to recommence once the regulations are in place.
Today’s announcement will also provide a major boost for Mr Gunner’s leadership.
Mr Gunner and his chiefof-staff Alf Leonardi stared down members of Labor’s Left faction and powerful unions at the ALP’s 2016 conference to prevent a permanent fracking ban being put in place.
A compromise deal saw Mr Gunner agree to a moratorium while Justice Pepper’s inquiry was conducted.
The Chief Minister has since held firm despite major pressure from powerful unions, particularly the now-merged CFMEU and MUA.
Mr Gunner has consistently argued his Government would be guided by Justice Pepper’s report in deciding if fracking should be banned, or allowed under highly regulated circumstances in tightly prescribed areas. Those tightly prescribed areas are expected to be announced today.
Today’s decision should also give the Government impetus to argue it should receive more funding from the Commonwealth.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison told the NT News last year the Federal Government was questioning whether the Territory’s GST should be lowered in light of the fracking ban. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week announced $5 billion for an airport rail link in Victoria, a state that has banned onshore gas fracking.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner will announce this morning the lifting of a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of onshore gas