NT fracking to resume
THE Northern Territory Government has lifted its moratorium on hydraulic fracking, accepting all 135 recommendations put forward by an independent inquiry. The 15-month inquiry, led by NSW Land and Environment Court judge Justice Rachel Pepper, concluded risks associated with fracking could be managed to an acceptable level through effective regulation. The moratorium was introduced in September 2016 as part of the Labor Government’s election commitment to commission a scientific inquiry into the matter, which was subsequently completed in March. Federal Resources minister Matt Canavan said the Northern Territory’s decision to lift the ban will boost investment opportunities and jobs, with initial estimates indicating the region could be sitting on more than 200 years of gas supply. “That huge quantity of gas means jobs and investment in the North,” Mr Canavan said. “I congratulate the Northern Territory on lifting this ban [and] I encourage other States to rethink their own blanket bans.” Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner said $5.33 million will be allocated over the next three years to implement the recommendations, with a detailed plan underway that will be released to the public in July. Mr Gunner added that the Government accepted the inquiry’s advice on no-go zones (about 49 per cent of the Territory) and that strict new laws and regulations needed to be put in place for the remainder of the region to ensure when fracking occurs, the Territory is protected. “I want to assure all Territorians that we will faithfully implement all the recommendations of the report and I encourage those who are passionate about protecting our precious natural environment to stay engaged through this process of reform,” Mr Gunner said. Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) NT director Matthew Doman welcomed the Government’s decision, but said the timeframe in which the Territory implemented the recommendations was “critical in determining the commercial viability of the industry.” “If they are to be implemented, they must be addressed within the next six months to ensure the industry can be on the ground exploring in the 2019 dry season,” Mr Doman said. “Explorers are ready to resume their activities as soon as the Government gives the green light.” Oil and gas explorer Blue Energy said it was unlikely any meaningful exploration activity could be undertaken in the NT before the 2019 dry season. “However, it would appear that the new legislation and no-go areas will only apply to the shale gas sector, and not those exploring for or developing “conventional” oil and gas,” Blue Energy managing director John Phillips said. Despite questions hanging over when fracking could in fact resume, progress was still being made. Within two weeks of the decision, the Federal Government announced the Territory’s Beetaloo Sub-basin, near Katherine, was selected as the third and final region to be assessed by Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO as part of the $30.4m Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program. Work will begin on the Beetaloo assessment mid-2018, which will directly contribute to the Strategic Regional Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA); a key recommendation of the fracking inquiry. Mr Gunner also appointed Dr David Ritchie as the independent officer to oversee implementation of the recommendations. “Dr Ritchie brings over 20 years of experience as a chief executive to this role including heading the Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority,” Mr Gunner said. “As a member of the inquiry panel, Dr Ritchie’s knowledge and familiarity with the recommendations of the report make him ideally placed to ensure implementation is done honestly and effectively.”
Origin Energy operates three exploration permits in the Beetaloo Basin which were put on hold due to the moratorium.