After declaring a moratorium on fracking in the Northern Territory at the end of last year, the Territory’s Government introduced the Scientific Inquiry Into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory. The Inquiry seeks to ‘assess the scientific evidence to determine the nature and extent of the environmental impacts and risks, including the cumulative impacts and risks, associated with hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs and the associated activities in the Northern Territory’. The report will identify gaps in scientific knowledge and causes of environmental risk as well as the social context in which hydraulic fracturing operates within in the Northern Territory.
Pastoralists v Energy Companies
Public engagement sessions during the Inquiry have seen pastoralists air their dissatisfaction with allowing energy companies to extract gas from their land prior to the moratorium that has banned fracking territory-wide. In order for co-operation in the future, pastoralists are requiring evidence as to the security of water due to fracking projects. They further submit that there is an inequity of bargaining power between energy companies and individual farmers that is impacting the fair outcomes of land-access negotiations. Northern Territory Government has stated the social licence for energy companies to engage in onshore gas fracking is key to the moratorium being lifted.
Energy companies, and the federal government, have described gas extraction in the Northern Territory as fundamental to ensuring national energy security. Energy companies have submitted to the Inquiry that fracking is environmentally and socially a safe method of resource extraction, noting groundwater contamination is limited through best practice by extractors.
Fresh Economic Expertise
Last week, Justice Rachel Pepper, who is chairing the inquiry, requested economic expertise as to the necessity of fracking Northern Australia. In 2015, a Deloitte Access Economics Report, commissioned by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, found that onshore gas could generate one billion dollars in revenue over the next 20 years and create 6000 jobs. However, Justice Pepper is seeking fresh submissions regarding the economic viability of fracking, a decision which has drawn criticism for duplication of process from energy companies.
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