Beetaloo gas the Territory's economic savior?

THE COMMISSION set up by the Northern Territory government to find a path through the COVID-19 crash, is betting on the potential of its vast onshore liquids-rich gas resources as the saviour to the region’s struggling economy.
Beetaloo gas the Territory's economic savior? Beetaloo gas the Territory's economic savior? Beetaloo gas the Territory's economic savior? Beetaloo gas the Territory's economic savior? Beetaloo gas the Territory's economic savior?

Paul Hunt

Senior Journalist: Oil & Gas, Policy.

Paul Hunt

 

The Michael Gunner-led Labor government established its Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission in May, and two and half months on, the commission has provided its first report - a path forward to growing the top end's economy in the medium term. 

While the commission, which is chaired by former Dow Chemical chief Andrew Liveris, considered a variety of industries, from manufacturing to tourism, it's clear from the report that the commission is betting heavily on oil and gas exploration and development. 

Gas from the Beetaloo featured as a keystone to economic recovery and security, in the face of what is quickly becoming one of Australia's worst financial situations to date. 

Today the commission warned "no state or territory will be left unscathed" by the global recession wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. 

It also found the "highly prospective world scale onshore gas resources and proven offshore gas reserves" along with the Territory's proximity to markets in Southeast Asia, were at the heart of the region's economic recovery. 

It urged chief minister Gunner to accelerate its efforts to secure investment in the Beetaloo Sub-basin, which is thought to hold well over 178,000 petajoules of gas according to estimates from industry on a 2C basis. 

"The Beetaloo Sub-basin shows significant potential to provide gas and liquids for energy use and to underpin a petrochemical manufacturing industry in the Territory - driving significant economic benefit," the commission said in its report. 

"The Commission recommends that the Territory Government, in conjunction with the Australian Government, accelerates the preliminary design and development assessments for critical enabling infrastructure to support development of the Beetaloo Sub-basin in the event commercial feasibility is proven," the report said. 

The commission believes this gas could sure up exports to overseas customers, but also play a vital role in reinventing the territory as a manufacturing hub. 

Excess gas could then be piped to the east coast market which is expected to suffer from severe shortfalls within the next three to five years. 

Initially, according to the commission, offshore sources of gas would be used to create a petrochemical production industry, "then gas and liquids from the Beetaloo." 

This first report noted while LNG exports had surged over the last 12 months, the Territory economy had shrunk 1.5% in 2018-2019, from its peak of $26.5 billion in 2017-2018. 

"Further contraction is expected in coming months" because of the COVID-19 pandemic which has shaken international financial markets. 

The commission also provided advice and a series of recommendations focusing on agribusiness, tourism, and critical mineral mining opportunities. 

It also referenced the NT Renewable Hydrogen Roadmap. 

"The renewables sector is a fast-growing sector with considerable potential for further significant growth in the Territory. To achieve that potential requires investment in enabling infrastructure," the commission said. 

In recognising the role of a hydrogen future, the commission said the NT government needed to "urgently undertake" studies into hydrogen development from solar power sources. 

Prior to the commission's report today, Canberra-based think tank The Australia Institute argued that development of an onshore NT gas industry would require millions in subsidies, and likely lead nowhere, especially if history is any teacher. 

TAI said that the jurisdiction had had cheap gas for a decade from Eni's offshore Blacktip field, which has always sent its gas to the Yelcher gas plant that powers Darwin. 

"Manufacturers could have accessed near-free gas in the Northern Territory between 2009 and 2019. Yet gas-related manufacturing declined, despite millions spent in attempts to woo industry," the report's author Rod Campbell said. 

The government initially bought too much gas, and later struggled to sell it, he said. 

However the development of the Beetaloo is expected to be of a different magnitude to Yelcher.

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