NT should 'get on with the job' of lifting fracking moratorium, Canavan says
The Northern Territory should “get on with the job” of lifting its hydraulic fracturing moratorium now that it has a draft report on the industry which says the risks can be mitigated, says the Minister for Northern Australia.
The draft report, released on Tuesday, found that with more “robust and rigorous” regulation, the risks of fracking could be reduced, and that provided that the recommendations were adopted and implemented, “not only should the risk of any harm be minimised to an acceptable level, in some instances, it can be avoided altogether”.
But among its 120 recommendations, it says that before any production takes place, the NT Government conduct baseline groundwater studies, which could take two to three years to complete.
The inquiry, which is under pressure from industry to speed up its work, is in its final stages and will hold consultations with communities next month before handing down a final report in March next year.
Fracking was a highly contentious issue during last year’s NT election and the Labor Government took power in part due to its promise to allay community concerns by putting a moratorium in place until the controversial practice could be reviewed.
Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan said on Wednesday that the sooner the onshore fracking industry could get going in the NT, the better.
He said it could potentially boost the NT economy by $17 billion and create 10,000 new jobs over an unspecified time period.
“Jobs is what you need, investment is what you need, and this gas opportunity is really the next step for Darwin and the Northern Territory,” Senator Canavan said.
“I hope there’s no further delays because I think the Northern Territory needs an economic shot in the arm.”
‘You can’t compromise the environment for the economy’
But despite urging the NT Government to permit the industry to operate, Senator Canavan said that any development needed to be taken forward with robust environmental controls, and that he would be happy to wait until groundwater studies were completed.
“That includes, in the case of gas, ensuring that groundwater is not damaged … so if we need to do those sorts of studies that our groundwater resources are protected, that’s what we have to do,” he said.
“It just underlines how important it is to get moving as soon as possible because these things do take time … no-one here is saying that we should fast-track a project and put environmental standards at risk.
“You can’t compromise the environment for the economy, that is absolutely fundamental.”
Senator Canavan said there had been several reports on the issue in the NT over the past few years, and that he didn’t think another review had been necessary.
“It seems to have come to similar conclusions as others which is good, but we’ve really got to get on with the job now,” he said.
Community say to have sway
The Lock The Gate Alliance environmental group said it was happy with the draft report; spokeswoman Naomi Hogan said the number of recommendations was too exhaustive for fracking to go ahead.
“The ability of the Territory Government and regulators to put in place those 120 stringent regulations, and to face all of the further work that’s required — the question is, is it worth putting water at risk and communities in gas fields?” she said.
She said the list of recommendations also identified areas where there was insufficient data, and questioned whether the NT Government would be able to deal with “all of those uncertainties that are still not been dealt through the report”.
“Water quality and surface and groundwater quality were not able to be determined at this point,” she said.
Lock the Gate also said January’s consultation phase would have a significant impact on the final outcome of the inquiry.
“The communities living on the frontline of these proposed gas fields should be able to have their say on whether or not they want to live on a gas field and whether the risks are appropriate for their community,” Ms Hogan said.
“I expect them to have a strong say in the next phase.”
‘We can gather the science as we go’
The gas industry has continued its sustained pressure on the Government to make a decision and give it certainty.
The NT branch of Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) agreed with the finding that there were no risks that could not be managed by an effective regulatory regime.
“We’ve got some concerns here that the panel is drawing on the regulatory approach of jurisdictions which effectively have no industry such as NSW, whereby a moratorium is removed … but the regulatory system is so burdensome, inefficient and costly that it effectively kills investment in our sector,” director Matt Doman said.
He supported the collection of groundwater baseline samples, saying “we can gather the science as we go”.
“We absolutely support the gathering of information before we move to production and full-scale development,” Mr Doman said.
“If we can resume exploration drilling and the fracking that is involved in exploration at a very small and limited scale to continue to conduct water studies, methane studies, look at every aspect of the environmental performance and impact of our industry, [then] we’ll do that on an ongoing basis.”
Mr Doman urged the NT Government to act decisively.
“This has been a 12-month inquiry that is now entering into its second year; it is time for the inquiry to be brought to a conclusion and for the Government to make a decision about the development of the NT resources and the manner and in which that will or won’t proceed,” he said.