‘We never consented’: Beetaloo companies urged to consider ‘human element’ of fracking

Larrakia traditional owner Eric Fejo (centre) was among those protesting the onshore drilling rig.

Larrakia traditional owner Eric Fejo (centre) was among those protesting the onshore drilling rig. Photo: AAP

Australia’s most powerful onshore drilling rig has arrived in Darwin, as a federal inquiry recommended tighter carbon offset regulations and more consultation with local communities before fracking goes ahead in the Beetaloo Basin.

Scientists and environmental activists were at Darwin’s port on Wednesday to protest the rig’s arrival.

They joined Larrakia traditional owner Eric Fejo, who waved the Larrakia flag and called on companies to “stop ripping the veins out of my mother’s country” while trucks carrying drilling pipes drove past behind him.

The owner of the drilling rig, Tamboran Resources, said its size would allow for more efficient operations, and reduce the number of well pads needed to extract gas.

The rig’s arrival comes as a long-awaited Senate inquiry report into oil and gas exploration in the NT’s Beetaloo Basin was released.

The report called on federal and territory governments to create better frameworks around reducing emissions in compliance with the newly reformed safeguard mechanism.

Also among the inquiry’s final 14 recommendations was a call for more consultation with traditional owners and pastoralists.

“In addition to these environmental concerns, there is a deeply human element to ‘unlocking’ gas reserves in the Beetaloo,” the report’s concluding comments said.

“While certain corporations and local interests, the wider Territory, and the nation as a whole might benefit economically from gas extraction, many local communities in and around the Beetaloo are bearing, and will continue to bear, the brunt of exploration and production activities.

“The committee believes it is incumbent on development proponents to clearly identify and articulate the benefits, and ensure they are shared more broadly across the region.”

The cross-party inquiry was established in June 2021.

Environmental groups, gas industry executives and pastoralists were among those who contributed to the 300-plus submissions.

The paper also recommended further inquiries be made into a proposed gas and petrochemical plant at Middle Arm in Darwin Harbour that would likely source supplies from projects in the Beetaloo.

Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, which represents Beetaloo Basin native title holders, called for a halt to fracking exploration while the report’s recommendations were implemented.

“This is an important report because it tells the story of how we never consented to the scale of fracking on our country which gas companies now want,” Nurrdalinji chair Johnny Wilson said.

The Senate inquiry also highlighted worries about the impact of gas exploration on groundwater and surface water resources.

“In the driest continent on Earth, this is not a trivial concern,” the report said.

“It raises very serious questions concerning the sustainability of life and livelihoods in the territorial centre, as well as risking irreversible damage to the culture and identity of First Nations people.”

The inquiry’s recommendations come a day after the NT government released its own report into baseline environmental data in the Beetaloo Basin.

Geologist Alan Langworthy criticised the government’s Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment’s finding of no new risks from fracking.

“There are no real risks identified, because we’ve identified all the risks before,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean that those earlier identified risks are in any way mitigated against.”

The NT government revealed decisions on fracking would be announced in coming weeks.

“We’ve seen plenty of proponents in the oil and gas industry talking particularly recently about their acceptance of things like the safeguard mechanism,” NT Environment Minister Lauren Moss said.

“So I think that industry absolutely knows what’s expected of them. They know that decisions are coming shortly.”


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