A government inquiry has said fracking can be safe if properly regulated, but many in the Top End community don’t want the industry a crucial new pipeline will help establish. Thom Mitchell reports.
Environmental groups have decried the Northern Territory government’s support for a new $800 million gas pipeline that would run 622 kilometres between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa, and pave the way for an expansion of the Top End’s burgeoning shale gas fracking industry.
Chief Minister Adam Giles has announced a company called Jemena has been awarded the contract to build the North East Gas Interconnector Pipeline, which he described as a “nation-building project which will generate investment in regional infrastructure and deliver real jobs”.
He has promised all royalties from onshore gas and oil will go towards funding for education and training, and said that two thirds of the 900 jobs the pipeline is expected to create during construction will go to locals.
In comments that will fuel fears of a fracking boom in the Top End, Jemena Managing Director Paul Adams said the pipeline will “drive commercial exploration and development of currently untapped gas reserves, unlocking the next phase of economic growth for the Territory”.
“The pipeline is cost-effective and relatively quick to build, so it will support a strong gas industry for the Territory by getting gas to market at a competitive price, accelerating development of NT gas fields and helping create jobs and opportunities in the gas industry,” he said.
Conservationists have criticised the government’s unswerving support for the pipeline, and the Acting Director of the NT Environment Centre, Anna Boustead, suggested it had been rashly “rushed through” before its environmental impacts are considered.
“The development hasn’t received the environmental approvals it needs to go ahead in the first place, and I note that there’s no mention of that in the NT government’s media release,” she said. “They just say it will go ahead.”
“We know that there isn’t much of an economic case for gas from shale fracking at the moment, and we understand that this pipeline will be a game changer in terms of making it more viable,” Boustead said.
“Oil and gas companies will be able to frack gas and then transport it to the eastern seaboard where they’ll be able to fetch a better price.”
“It will be a game changer in terms of the NT climate impact: As other countries are moving away from fossil fuels the Territory is about to invest in an enormous project promoting them and in part promoting shale gas fracking, which we know is very risky and poses a huge number of environmental issues.”
Earlier this year an NT government inquiry found that the controversial mining technique known as fracking, which involves using highly pressurised water and chemicals to break rock underground in order to extract gas, can be carried out safely if properly regulated.
The findings have been celebrated by the Top End government, and this morning Giles foreshadowed a large industry by noting that the Territory boasts more than 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, potentially enough to power Australia for more than 200 years.
However, strong concerns remain among the Top End community. Many Traditional Owners, in particular, are worried their ancient culture, homelands and water reserves will be degraded if the fracking industry takes off.
“We’ve got family right through the pipeline area and up through the NT Gulf country, all who are going to be affected when this pipeline drives dangerous fracking gasfields across the Territory,” said Gadrian Hoosan, a Gulf region Traditional Owner from the Gurawa Land Trust.
“We’ll stand together against this pipeline to protect our land and community from the gas fracking explosion this government wants to push onto us,” he said.
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