‘Scandalous’ fracking approval alarms owners, groups

Keira Jenkins |

Environmental groups and traditional owners are fighting plans to drill in the Beetaloo Basin.
Environmental groups and traditional owners are fighting plans to drill in the Beetaloo Basin.

Traditional owners are urging the federal government to step in after Tamboran Resources’ Beetaloo Basin gas project was given an environmental green light.

The Northern Territory government approved Tamboran’s environmental management plan on Thursday, allowing the construction of four exploration and appraisal sites and drilling and flow testing of up to 15 gas wells at the location, about 500 km southeast of Darwin.

Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, which represents native title holders in the Beetaloo Basin, said it had written to Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek asking her to scrutinise Tamboran’s plans under expanded water trigger powers.

The laws, which passed federal parliament in December, expanded to allow the environment minister to consider the impacts of all gas fracking projects on water resources.

“Minister Plibersek should pull the water trigger so water experts can look closely at the risks to water from Tamboran’s drilling,” Djingili elder and Nurrdalinji chair Samuel Sandy said.

“Water is the source of all life as we know it. Our rivers, lakes and underground waterways are everything to us.

“We have one earth and the underground aquifer is like a bloodline that runs through it. If the water is contaminated, where are we all going to live?”

Environmental groups echoed the concerns of traditional owners, saying the minister had a responsibility to assess the project under the water trigger powers.

“This scandalous decision makes a mockery of our environmental protections,” Environment Centre NT executive director Kirsty Howey said.

“It opens the door to climate-wrecking fracking that could generate 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and wreak havoc on our precious waterways.”

Ms Plibersek said all projects must comply with national environmental law, including the expanded water trigger.

“Tamboran has been reminded of this on multiple occasions,” she said.

“Any breach of national environment law will be treated extremely seriously.”

In April the Northern Territory government made a deal with Tamboran to buy gas fracked from the Beetaloo Basin, which Chief Minister Eva Lawler said would ensure affordable energy for residents and businesses and boost the territory’s economy.

“As the purchaser and the approver, the Territory government has a clear conflict of interests,” Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said

“It’s time for the federal government to step in and make an impartial assessment.”