NT inquiry raises frac questions

THE upstream industry has welcomed an interim report from the Northern Territory fraccing inquiry which found high levels of anxiety in the community about the practice and recommending more data is needed before the risks can be fully assessed.

NT inquiry raises frac questions Justice Rachel Pepper.

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Inquiry chair Justice Rachel Pepper, whose inquiry had been going since December, said the first stage of public hearings and community consultation in March was focused on identifying the risks and issues of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the NT.
 
After 293 submissions and 37 public hearings at 17 towns and communities across the Territory, the panel identified additional risks around land, water, air, public health, Aboriginal people and their culture, social and economic impacts and regulatory reform that required further study.
 
Pepper said the inquiry's ultimate task was not to recommend to the government that it retain or lift the moratorium, something Jemena says is essential if the Northern Gas Pipeline is to be extended to help the east coast gas crisis.
 
The report, released on Friday, said the "primary and most consistently raised issue" across all community forums as the potential impact of any onshore unconventional shale gas industry on water resources in the NT, both regarding human use and dependent ecosystems.
 
Pepper said the inquiry had opened registrations in the past fortnight 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," she 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."
 
Participants will have the option of 30 or 60-minute time allocations to present and respond to questions from the Inquiry.
 

Lack of faith

 
The report also noted a "lack of faith" about the regulatory frameworks to "protect the environment from the risks inherent in any onshore unconventional shale gas industry", and a "general distrust" in the NT government to make decisions in the best interests of the community.
 
The consultations also revealed concerns over potential "loss of landscape amenity values", loss of habitat for wildlife, the spread of weeds, land contamination and the potential impact on stock movement as a result of roads, pipelines and well pads.
 
The impact of shale gas activities on climate change was also a major source of angst, along with concerns that any development would "irreversibly disturb and damage" Aboriginal country for future generations.
 
There was also considerable scepticism about the "true value" of any economic benefit created by shale gas development, particularly in terms of employment, public revenue generation and royalties.
 
"There was a strong belief that those who bore the risks of the development would not receive the benefits," the report said, while also citing some who said the government should not be "investing in a declining industry".
 
Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association NT Director Matthew Doman said the industry was "ready to invest billions" in the NT "when and if the government's fraccing moratorium is lifted".
 
"While we don't believe the inquiry is necessary, we acknowledge it was an election promise of the NT government," he said.  
 
"As such, we will continue to support the inquiry to ensure its work is factual, complete and relevant to the NT.
 
"Numerous studies in Australia and overseas have confirmed that, properly regulated, our industry is safe.
 
"We believe developing the Territory's natural gas resources offers significant public benefits, including jobs and training opportunities in regional communities, improved infrastructure and services, and direct benefits to the Traditional Owners and landholders who host development on their land."
 
APPEA has argued that it was important the inquiry considered the public benefit to Territorians of natural gas development and was pleased this work was now underway.
 
The report also noted concern over potential impacts on tourism, pastoralism, horticulture and agriculture.
 

Site and well management

 
The report said industry and regulators needed to remember important facts about site infrastructure, well integrity, decommissioning, wastewater production and composition, the management and re-use of flowback and produced water, and the re-use of wastewater.
 
It also said industry and regulators needed to pay attention to reinjection of wastewater, seismicity and subsidence.
 
The report noted that the final footprint of wells and surface facilities was "much smaller" than the original drilling footprint.
 
While there is evidence indicating well integrity had been an issue for onshore shale gas, the report noted that recent technological improvements in design and construction had led to a "considerably improved" performance in the integrity of modern wells compared to earlier and legacy wells.
 
It also noted that aquifer reinjection was being increasingly restricted due to concerns over the potential for groundwater contamination and induced seismicity.
 
"There is now evidence from the US and the UK that earthquakes may occur during hydraulic fracturing near fault lines and that larger scale earthquakes have occurred during the reinjection of wastewater into the ground," the report said.
 
It did not specify if the NT contained such fault lines.
 
The inquiry's draft final report will be released "towards the end of the year".

 

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