INVESTIGATION

The Battle for Beetaloo

ON SITE: The panel of scientific experts visited a gas well at the start of their mission. Picture: supplied.
ON SITE: The panel of scientific experts visited a gas well at the start of their mission. Picture: supplied.

A cash-strapped NT Government knows the Territory needs an economic saviour and some pundits believe shale gas is heaven sent.

As the government struggles to bring out its job focused second budget, a falling slice of the GST cake has just made things worse.

Which is why, as we forecast in March last year, all eyes are now turning to the Beetaloo.

Safely surrounded by a pro-fracking MP, and “a long way from anywhere”, out of sight is out of mind a Gunner Government would hope as the the gas industry licks its lips.

On the eve of the fracking decision, we thought it was worth having another look a little known region in the remote Australian outback south of Katherine.

Some gas companies have said Katherine stands to benefit as the staging post for workers and materials if the industry is allowed to mine deep beneath the Beetaloo’s sands.

The Beetaloo basin is home to vast Northern Territory oil and gas rich shale fields, as much as 18,500 square kilometres in extent.

Brittle rocks lay in a thick carpet underground, as far as four kilometres deep but, with modern mining methods, ripe for the plucking.

GAS RICHES: The Northern Territory is believed to be home to one of the richest shale gas fields in the world. Map: NT Government.

GAS RICHES: The Northern Territory is believed to be home to one of the richest shale gas fields in the world. Map: NT Government.

With a total ban on unconventional gas mining in the southern states and the election of an anti-fracking Labor Government in Western Australia, enormous pressure has been brought to bear on the Labor NT Government.

Australia badly needs more natural gas, both for export and for domestic use, households and factories are still hooked on burning fossil fuels.

The massive three export terminals in Gladstone, Queensland appear to be sucking the nation dry meeting the needs of their Asian customers.

Prices are rising and gas production is falling.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association says onshore exploration activity in Australia was at its lowest level in more than three decades.

LONG FIGHT: Residents, mostly in the areas directly affected, have fought long and hard against fracking.

LONG FIGHT: Residents, mostly in the areas directly affected, have fought long and hard against fracking.

The thousands of coal seam gas wells in Queensland are not producing as they once did, the NT is the great white hope.

Origin Energy managed to drill a half dozen deep holes into the Beetaloo before a territory-wide moratorium came into effect earlier last year and found what they hoped for, oceans of gas down there locked in the rock.

Shale gas is like any other gas, and can be used in cooking, heating, powering factories or sending overseas for export dollars.

Hydraulic fracturing, a mining process which turned oil-poor USA into a net exporter, is called fracking for short.

READY TO STRIKE: Australia’s best and richest miner Gina Rinehart has been buying up NT cattle stations in a shopping frenzy these past two years.

READY TO STRIKE: Australia’s best and richest miner Gina Rinehart has been buying up NT cattle stations in a shopping frenzy these past two years.

In the coal seams, or the NT’s shale rocks, the gas is trapped in the rocks and has to be coaxed into letting it go.

Fracking is a process used across the world, environmentalists debate whether it is a safe process or not, but there is no doubting it works.

GOING DEEP: Shale gas drilling in the Beetaloo basin of NT. Picture: supplied.

GOING DEEP: Shale gas drilling in the Beetaloo basin of NT. Picture: supplied.

The NT’s panel of scientists gave its all-clear in its final report to the Government last month. Chief Minister Michael Gunner says he is no hurry.

Katherine has never wavered in its opposition.

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