PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Communities in the Northern Territory are “overwhelmingly” against hydraulic fracturing (fracking), says the independent inquiry body appointed last year to investigate the environmental, social and economic risks and impacts of fracking.
The inquiry, which started in December, concluded its first stage of public hearings and community consultation conducted in March 2017, focusing on identifying the risks and issues of fracking for shale gas. A total of 293 submissions had been received so far, 37 public hearings were conducted and the inquiry visited 17 towns and communities across the territory, as well as carrying out numerous other stakeholder engagement activities.
“As a result of this consultation process, additional risks have been identified and taken into account by the panel, which are outlined in the interim report,” said inquiry chairperson Justice Rachel Pepper.
She added that the interim report sets out a methodology for assessing the risks and determining whether they can be mitigated to an acceptable level by appropriate regulatory safeguards.
“The interim report examines the risks identified within the themes of water, land, air, public health, Aboriginal People and their culture, social impacts, economic impacts and regulatory reform, and makes some preliminary observations about those risks, including the likelihood and consequence of some of those risks occurring and what further information or analysis is required.
“Some preliminary assessments include, for example, that the reinjection of waste water into groundwater should not be allowed. In many cases, however, the panel’s interim assessment is that more data is required before the risks can be fully assessed.”
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has welcomed the release of the interim report, saying the government is looking forward to the final report which is due later this year, after which a decision will be made to either ban fracking in the Northern Territory, or allow it in highly regulated circumstances in tightly prescribed areas.
“We will make the best decision for the Territory - we will not put at risk existing fishing, farming, tourism and cattle jobs for the possibility of jobs from fracking,” Gunner said.
The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (Appea) has also welcomed the release of the interim report, with Northern Territory director Matthew Doman saying the inquiry is clearly taking a comprehensive approach and the industry will take time to study the report closely.
“The gas industry is pleased the interim report has been released on schedule and that the inquiry remains on track to be completed this year,” Doman said.
“We look forward to the panel concluding its work and enabling the Northern Territory government to make a decision on development of the territory’s abundant gas resources.
“The industry is ready to invest billions in the Northern Territory when – and if – the government’s fracking moratorium is lifted.”
Doman said the gas industry’s view remains that the issues being examined by the inquiry have already been thoroughly investigated.
Meanwhile, the inquiry has opened registrations for its next round of public hearings in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, which will take place between July 31 and August 10.
“The next stage of public hearings is important in order for the inquiry panel to fill some of the information gaps and obtain more evidence for its risk assessments going forward,” Pepper said.
“The inquiry will be calling on some stakeholders to provide additional information at the public hearings, however, the inquiry welcomes any organisation, stakeholder or member of the public who wants to present information or evidence to the panel.”