Beetaloo Basin Stakeholders in the Dark on Final Report of Senate Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing

The outcome of a months-long Senate inquiry into a Northern Territory gas field has remained pending after several delays and the opening of a new federal parliament.

The Beetaloo Basin covers around 28,000 square kilometers southeast of Katherine and contains enough shale gas to supply Australia for around 200 years.

Oil and gas giants such as Santos have stepped up exploration work in the region in recent months, with some companies taking advantage of the Morrison government’s $50 million grant scheme.

Since June last year, dozens of economists, ranchers, traditional owners, lawyers and gas industry representatives have made more than 300 submissions on the risks and benefits of basin fracturing. as part of the investigation.

The final report was due on Tuesday after delays, but with the introduction of a new parliament it is now on hold.

The Beetaloo is near populated cattle country and native land.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

When a new legislature begins, any pending inquiries that have not been concluded by the end of the previous legislature automatically lapse, leaving it to the new committees to decide whether to continue inquiries or abandon them.

Traditional owner Johnny Wilson, who lives less than 20 kilometers from frac pits in the Beetaloo and chairs the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, was among those who gave evidence at a public hearing in Darwin this year.

“A lot of people – pastoralists, landowners, ranchers – are putting a lot of time and effort into being there, because there are big issues at stake,” he said.

“The public deserves a final report and recommendations because the Morrison government has spent millions of dollars helping gas companies drill and fracture our country, and the new Labor government has said nothing about it would do the same.”

two men with their arms crossed and their backs to each other with several people on horseback behind them.
Johnny Wilson (left) fears fracking will damage sacred sites and water supplies.(Rural ABC: Max Rowley)

Kirsty Howey, co-director of the Environment Center NT, said it was “absolutely critical” that the new parliament continue the inquiry into the Beetaloo Basin.

“It would be a huge slap in the face if this report never saw the light of day,” she said.

“We are talking about an extraordinarily important new gas field project – both nationally and globally – which is largely opposed by most of the Northern Territory community, as poll after poll has shown. .”

Ms Howey said opening up the basin ‘could blow the new Labor government’s 43 per cent reduction target by 2030 – as well as our obligation under international law’, highlighting Australia’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

In a statement, Cassandra Schmidt, NT Director of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), said the Beetaloo remained an important project for the NT and Australia “regardless of the status of any parliamentary inquiry”.

“The oil and gas industry was pleased to participate in the Senate Inquiry into the Beetaloo Basin to explain the enormous economic opportunity for the region and the benefits for Territorians that are expected to be created over the next two decades” , she said.

It comes as the new parliament unveils details of Labour’s new climate bill, which would legislate its 43% emissions reduction target into federal law.

The legislation needs the support of the Greens and at least one other senator to pass the upper house, unless the opposition decides to support it.

However, the Greens have so far not pledged to back the bill, saying the target is ‘weak’ and will be unachievable unless the government also rules out approving any new coal projects or of gas, including the Beetaloo Basin.

Norman D. Briggs