The Federal Government will invest a surprise $8.4 million to "accelerate" the development of the NT's onshore shale gas industries.
Last night's Budget item received little fanfare and has caught anti-fracking groups unawares.
Buried within the Budget was the following line: "Support feasibility studies to accelerate gas supplies from the NT to the east coast market by opening the Beetaloo Sub-basin for exploration and development".
Katherine Times this morning pressed the Government for more details and was referred to the office of the Minister for Energy, Angus Taylor,
A spokesman said the $8.4m would provide environmental baseline work, a feasibility study and an Aboriginal economic strategy to support development of the Beetaloo Sub-basin.
Santos and Origin Energy are about to start exploratory drilling and fracking operations in the Beetaloo soon now the NT Government lifted a year-long moratorium on the shale gas industry.
A succession of Government leaders have pressed the Gunner Government to drop the ban saying there is potential for the Beetaloo to provide enough gas supplies to power Australia for several hundred years.
There is also a keen focus on gas exports also.
Communities like Katherine remain firmly opposed to fracking.
The Federal Government says accelerating the exploration and development of the Beetaloo is in support of a recent Memorandum of Understanding with the NT Government to further develop the territory's onshore and offshore gas industry.
This project will assist the NT Government in identifying and prioritising gas projects which could be accelerated based on key economic, environmental and social factors, the government says.
One of the projects would also develop a strategy to ensure economic development from the NT gas industry yields significant benefits to the Indigenous people of the NT, particularly the Barkly Region.
There will be $1.5 million to produce a feasibility study to examine gas exploration areas in the Beetaloo hoping to find projects which could be accelerated to increase availability of gas into domestic markets.
The study would also investigate options to support gas flows to Darwin for export or use in downstream gas industries.
A further $5 million will enable the Commonwealth to conduct additional environmental work complementary to the existing Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program, and where required, procure domestic hydrological and geological expertise.
This also supports the Northern Territory in addressing specific recommendations from the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing Report completed in 2018. For example, it permits baseline water measurements as part of regional water assessment to support planning and impact assessment modelling.
As well, $1.9 million will support the development of the Beetaloo Aboriginal economic development strategy.
This strategy is to examine how best to leverage economic development for the Aboriginal communities through increased gas activity in the Beetaloo Sub-basin.
The surprise Budget move has outrage anti-fracking groups like the Protect Country Alliance.
Alliance spokesman Graeme Sawyer said: "We are experiencing one of the NT's worst ever economic downturns and this fossil fuel addicted Federal Government has handed a wad of cash to a fly by night industry with no social licence.
"Million dollar handouts by the Federal Government to money-pit fracking projects in the Northern Territory is an abject waste of Australian taxpayer's money.
"It's ridiculous that we should be spending millions of taxpayer dollars propping up an industry that Territorians don't want, that puts water at risk and will drive up carbon pollution."
The Federal Budget has reaffirmed the vital and significant contribution liquefied natural gas exports play in sustaining Australia's economic growth, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said.
APPEA chief executive Andrew McConville said Australia's LNG projects will deliver decades of economic growth, jobs and revenues for state and federal governments.
"APPEA welcomed the allocation of $8.4 million to support feasibility studies to accelerate gas supplies from the Northern Territory to the east coast market by opening the Beetaloo Sub‑basin for exploration and development," Mr McConville said.
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