Traditional owners to tell Origin Energy it has not gained consent for fracking on their land
A group of Indigenous traditional owners from remote parts of the Northern Territory will travel to Origin Energy’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Wednesday to tell shareholders they have not given permission for the company to frack their land for gas.
- A group of Indigenous traditional owners will soon tell Origin Energy shareholders they did not give consent for its planned developments
- They will ask the company to review consent agreements
- But the company is confident traditional owners already gave consent
Origin Energy gained official approvals for gas exploration, including test fracking, in the gas-rich Beetaloo Basin, both from traditional owners through the Northern Land Council, and the Northern Territory Government.
But some of the traditional owners plan to tell the shareholder meeting they oppose fracking, and did not give their “free, prior and informed consent”.
They hope to tell the meeting when permission for fracking was sought by Origin Energy, they did not fully understand the company’s explanations of processes, or the potential size of developments potentially numbering hundreds of wells.
“The letter that we’re bringing up to Origin, we want that to be recognised, and to be respected for who we are,” Alawa traditional owner Naomi Wilfred said.
The Alawa traditional owner, whose country includes Nutwood Downs in the northern part of Origin Energy’s EP98 permit area, said she is worried about potential environmental impacts if production goes ahead.
“I’m worried about fracking because of our water. Water is life, it’s our main one. It’s keeping our land alive,” she said.
“We’ve got bush tucker and bush medicine out there and we want to keep it safe.”
Traditional owner Naomi Wilfred is worried fracking could damage her Alawa clan’s ability to collect bush tucker from its waterways. (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
Alawa traditional owner Stephanie Roberts, whose country is at Nutwood Downs and Tanumbirini, said she wanted to directly tell shareholders about her concerns.
“The investors and stakeholders need to see what’s really going to happen to our land if they’re going to start fracking on it,” she said.
Alawa traditional Alan Watson, whose country is Tanumbirini, said he didn’t understand Origin Energy’s explanation about its fracking proposals when he attended consultation meetings with the company.
“I didn’t agree with what they were talking about because we couldn’t understand what they were talking about,” he said.
“They never gave us that much information that we needed, because we are worried about this fracking going around now, it might ruin our country and our waterways and our fishing life and our hunting life.”
Alawa traditional owner Alan Watson said he did not understand the information provided by Origin Energy about fracking at its meetings. (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
The Sydney-based Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility has organised for the traditional owners to attend the Origin Energy meeting.
It hopes they will be able to speak in support of a resolution to be put to the meeting by 100 shareholders calling on the company to “commission a comprehensive review of whether free, prior and informed consent of Aboriginal traditional owners and communities … has been established”.
The Centre’s Executive Director, Brynn O’Brien, said the company has indicated to her that that the resolution will be able to be put to the meeting and voted on.
“We have simply asked the company to show what they’ve done to obtain free, prior and informed consent,” she said.
Ms O’Brien said she does not expect the resolution to gain enough shareholder support to pass at Wednesday’s meeting, but considers it will be a valuable attempt to raise awareness among shareholders and investors.
“Even where a shareholder resolution doesn’t pass, because of the scrutiny applied to a particular issue, in this case consent, you often do see changes within a company to even a low vote,” she said.
Origin ‘respects Land Council processes’
Origin Energy said it held community consultations convened by the Northern Land Council across its EP98, EP117 and EP76 permit areas in 2014, 2105 and 2016.
It said it provided its proposed work programs a year in advance to the Land Council.
“We respect the processes carried out by the Northern Land Council,” the company’s spokesman said.
“The NLC determines which traditional owners attend meetings, and that there are appropriate decision-makers for the different traditional owner groups at those meetings, relating to the area where we are proposing to work.
The company said it gained documented permission from traditional owners for exploration fracking at the Amungee well in the Beetaloo in 2015, and it plans to drill a further three wells in 2019.
“We have shared the forward work plan for next year with the NLC and our host traditional owners who have recently completed sacred site clearance work,” the spokesman said.
“Should our current exploration activity progress to future development and production, we will follow this approach engaging with communities, sharing factual, scientifically based information and seeking consent and agreement with the NLC and traditional owners.”
Alawa traditional owner Stephanie Roberts said she hopes Origin Energy shareholders will listen to her tell them informed consent has not been gained in some areas. (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
‘We consulted the right people’
The Northern Land Council said the time lag between consultations and proposed developments has caused some issues.
“Some of these consultations have occurred some time ago, and that’s part of the problem, with the generational change that’s going on in Aboriginal society, so we’re concerned about that,” Northern Land Council Chief Executive Joe Morrison said.
“But we’re also very sure that we’ve consulted with the right people and the right people have given consent about those permits.”
Mr Morrison said the land council is confident information about fracking processes and proposed developments were properly explained to traditional owners.
“I’ve been to some of those consultations and the presentations were extensive,” he said.
“Because it’s highly technical, breaking that information down has been something that the land council takes very seriously.”
He accused lobby groups concerned about fracking for turning people against it.
“Knowing that there are external players who have got preconceived ideas about whether hydraulic fracturing should go ahead or not, unfortunately using Aboriginal people to push their positions, I think that’s part of the challenge here,” he said.
Earlier this year the Northern Territory Government’s Pepper fracking inquiry found “Aboriginal people from regional communities who made submissions to the panel almost universally expressed deep concern about, and strong opposition to the development of any onshore shale gas industry on their country”.
It added: “The panel received an abundance of evidence that the broader Aboriginal community was not being appropriately informed about fracking or the potential for an onshore shale gas industry more broadly.”
While you’re here… are you feeling curious?