Fracking inquiry says it is sorting fact from fiction

LISTENING: Justice Pepper hears from people at a public hearing in Mataranka earlier in the year. The meeting almost unanimously opposed lifting of the moratorium.
LISTENING: Justice Pepper hears from people at a public hearing in Mataranka earlier in the year. The meeting almost unanimously opposed lifting of the moratorium.

THE closely watched scientific inquiry into onshore gas fracking in the Northern Territory has today released its much anticipated interim report.

After many rounds of public hearings and hundreds of submissions, it was the inquiry panel’s first opportunity to have its say on the proposed development of huge shale gas reserves, mostly located south of Katherine.

The panel studiously avoided making any recommendations on the lifting or otherwise of the NT Government’s moratorium on the controversial mining of “unconventional gas”.

The government is under huge political pressure to lift its moratorium because of an upward pressure on natural gas prices nationally.

“The ultimate task of this inquiry is not to recommend to government that it retain or lift the moratorium presently in place – that is a matter for the government,” today’s release reads.

“Rather the work of the inquiry is to, based on the most current and best available scientific data and literature, assess the environmental, social, cultural and economic risks associated with hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the NT.

“In doing so, the inquiry must sort fact from fiction and weigh up claim and counter-claim in making its assessments and in formulating its recommendations.”

The panel is still gathering evidence, notably from a commissioned economic consultant on the claimed benefits to the NT on allowing fracking to go ahead.

The panel expects its final report will made to the government by the end of the year.

The report is available to view online: frackinginquiry.nt.gov.au

Inquiry chair, Justice Rachel Pepper, said the interim report was a significant piece of work for the inquiry. The report details the activities undertaken by the panel to date and its preliminary analysis of some of the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the NT.

“The inquiry has undertaken a considerable amount of work since it began in December last year and it is important that the Inquiry provides an update to Territorians,” Justice Pepper said.

“The first stage of public hearings and community consultation conducted in March 2017 was focussed on identifying the risks and issues of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Northern Territory.

“A total of 293 submissions were received by the inquiry so far, 37 public hearings were conducted and the Inquiry visited 17 towns and communities across the Territory, as well as 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. 

“The report also sets out a methodology for assessing the risks and determining whether they can be mitigated to an acceptable level by appropriate regulatory safeguards.

OPPOSED: Katherine residents have demonstrated their opposition to fracking.

OPPOSED: Katherine residents have demonstrated their opposition to fracking.

“The 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.”

Nor should fracking be allowed in national parks or conservation reserves. 

“In many cases, however, the panel’s interim assessment is that more data is required before the risks can be fully assessed.”

Justice Pepper said the Inquiry had opened registrations last week for its next round of public hearings in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.

The Katherine hearings will be held on August 8 and 9 at the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre.

“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,” Justice 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.” 

Participants will have the option of 30 or 60 minute time allocations to present and respond to questions from the inquiry.