The first big gas explorer has received the all clear to start fracking for gas in the NT.
Santos has passed all the regulatory hurdles in a major milestone for the gas industry since drilling was stopped in 2016.
Santos yesterday announced it has received approval for the first Environmental Management Plan to be awarded for onshore shale gas exploration in the Territory since the moratorium was lifted in early 2018.
It is expected a similar approval for Origin Energy to continue exploring in the Beetaloo basin is imminent.
Environment and Natural Resources Minister Eva Lawler approved Santos' Drilling EMP for the Tanumbirini 2H and Inacumba 1/1H wells in Exploration Permit 161 in the McArthur Basin, east of Daly Waters.
Santos is operator of, and has a 75 per cent interest in, the permit.
The green light for the resumption of drilling activities in the basin follows last month's approval of the EMP for civil works at and around the well locations, as well as the acquisition of 2D seismic data.
Santos managing director and chief executive officer Kevin Gallagher said approval of the Drilling EMP is an important milestone that clears the way to restart onshore shale gas exploration in the resource-rich McArthur Basin.
"We drilled Tanumbirini 1 in 2014 and liked what we saw, so we are delighted to be in a position to resume exploration drilling," Mr Gallagher said.
"Local communities desperately need the jobs, small business opportunities and investment the onshore natural gas industry will bring, and with the new regulatory regime in place to ensure that the environment and water resources are protected, we'll be moving as quickly as possible and doing our best to beat the approaching wet season."
Santos is completing drilling of the Dukas 1 well in the Amadeus Basin and the next drilling location for the Ensign 965 rig will depend on the rig release date from Dukas 1.
The NT Government said Santos revised its EMP following the public consultation process, including the wastewater management plan and spill management plan, ensuring that environmental risks will be controlled and reduced to a level that is as low as reasonably practical and acceptable.
Minister Eva Lawler said: "Our environment is important and the Government understands that it is a large part of what makes living in the Territory so special.
"As a Government, we are restoring trust and certainty through the implementation of a robust, clear and transparent set of rules and guidelines on how the environment must be protected - good environment policy is smart economic policy.
"Providing the community with a legislative right to have their say on an EMP relating to drilling or fracking will help restore trust and transparency - a process that did not exist under the previous CLP government.
Protect Country Alliance said the NT Government approved Santos' EMP for a gas well, without actually mentioning the company will have to frack in order to access shale gas as planned.
"Santos and the NT Government have teamed up on a dirty process. The plan they just approved is for Santos to drill the well, but the government has failed to address the fact Santos would then need to frack the well," Protect Country Alliance spokeswoman Lauren Mellor said.
"Santos is chasing shale gas, which always needs to be fracked, using high pressure and a chemical slurry. But the Santos EMP totally failed to include the details of the fracking process. This assessment process is death by a thousand cuts."
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