There is a new fight taking place on decisions to start drilling for onshore gas in the Territory before all the science was done.
Opponents of fracking say the drills should stop until all the work was done, as had been promised during a key scientific inquiry into the industry.
But energy companies say the promise was for the start up of production, not for exploration as is going on now.
The NT Government has released draft terms of reference for important scientific work necessary to allow the industry to continue.
The Rachel Pepper inquiry called for environmental baseline assessments to be done as has already been done for methane gas.
Researchers from the CSIRO criss-crossed large areas of the Territory checking methane levels which can now be cross-referenced if the industry begins and methane levels rise.
The government has asked for public comment on plans now to do more studies on:
- water quality and quantity
- aquatic ecosystems
- terrestrial ecosystems
- greenhouse gas emissions
- environmental health and
- social, cultural and economic studies
Project Country Alliance claims the government has put the industry before the environment by not waiting for these studies to be complete before allowing fracking to start.
Three energy companies are now in the Beetaloo Basin drilling wells and fracking to test the optimistic claims about the oceans of gas locked up in shale several kilometres deep.
"We know that Santos is now fracking - yet these studies are still in the community consultation phase. We need the SREBA done properly," Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said.
"What's more, the SREBA terms of reference have been significantly weakened when compared to what the Pepper Inquiry originally envisioned they would be," he said.
But APPEA, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, said it was clear the Pepper inquiry recommended the studies be undertaken "before any further production approvals are granted".
"This was in recognition that the exploration and appraisal phase of a project is critical in informing the SREBA (studies)," APPEA's Keld Knudsen said.
The Government's own advice on release of the draft terms of reference says: "Recommendation 15.1 states that a Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment should be undertaken prior to the granting of production approvals for extraction of unconventional onshore gas. That is, a SREBA is not required for approval of exploration activities (which may include the drilling and fracking of a number of exploration wells) but is required to enable approvals once development of an onshore shale gas play moves into the production phase."
Environment and Natural Resources Minister Eva Lawler said: "All 31 recommendations identified by the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing (Inquiry) as requiring implementation before exploration could commence were implemented, as we said we would do.
"We are moving steadily towards the implementation of all recommendations as outlined in the Pepper Inquiry including the release of the SREBA terms of reference for consultation.
"The Government is making sure that as the onshore gas industry emerges, our unique natural environment is protected.
Mr Sawyer said the Government was ignoring the Pepper Inquiry's call for in depth scientific baseline studies, and is instead proceeding with a ham fisted approach to data collection.
"The Government must stop cutting corners and ignoring key elements of the Pepper Inquiry recommendations," he said.
"Despite regular claims in the media about it following the recommendations, the government is flagrantly ignoring the recommendations of the Pepper Inquiry at the behest of gas companies.
"Other examples include allowing fracking companies to operate during the wet season and store their waste in open-air containers.
"These baseline studies are needed to determine the risk fracking poses to the complex ecosystems present in the Territory, but most importantly we need to see this final risk assessment as a genuine informed process."
Public comments on the draft terms of reference close on Friday, February 14.
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox each Friday at 6am from the Katherine Times. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up here.