Resources Minister Matt Canavan has made a case for greater water allocations across the Northern Territory on a visit to Katherine today with a host of government officials.
"There is no doubt, all we need is water. If you add water to the great soils that exist around the Katherine area, you will create more jobs, more food, and build a bigger and stronger economy," he said.
Minister Canavan was in town for the fourth ministerial meeting to discuss building and continuing momentum on the Northern Australia Agenda - a 20-year plan for investment and support to grow the north.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner, NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby, newly appointed drought co-ordinator-general Shane Stone and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt also flew in for the meeting.
Minister Canavan said a focus of the meeting was on building skilled workers particularly as the Beetaloo basin becomes the first major shale basin in the Asia-Pacific region.
But, before that, unlocking water allocations was key to taking full advantage of the Northern Territory's rich natural resources, he said.
Over the next year the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will embark on the first study in the region to find out exactly how much water is available.
"A limiting factor often on agricultural development in this area has been a lack of understanding on how much water is below the surface, and typically when there is uncertainty about how much water is there, there is a conservative approach to how much water is allocated to farming and job creating opportunities," Minister Canavan said.
"But by doing the study we are going to know how much water there is and potentially allow the Northern Territory Government to allocate more water, which can support more cropping for mangoes and potentially other crops... I know there are a lot of people talking about cotton around here."
He said there is every indication far more water is available than has been allocated, despite the Katherine region and other parts of the Northern Territory struggling through one of the driest years on record.
It is a case of the government taking a conservative approach in the past and to this day.
Despite widespread fears in the community extracting natural gas for energy from shale rock deep underground requires copious amounts of water, the Minister says reviews into fracking have concluded it can move ahead safely with appropriate regulations in place.
"We have to make sure the science and facts decide what we do.
"Fracking is not a new technology, it has been used for decades in the US and Queensland.
"Horizontal drilling is not controversial, it's perfectly safe. Environmental concerns that have been raised have not manifested. In Queensland we have safely operated for 20 years," he said.
He said any approval for gas production in the region would not occur without knowing the water resources would be protected, but regional and remote coordinator for Protect Country Alliance Lauren Mellor says in the face of a water crisis focus needs to be on energy sources which don't require water.
"It is reckless for a Federal Minister to come here and talk about a practice like fracking, which will require 40-60 million litres of water per well, when we have cattle stations downsizing and whole communities being left without drinking water," she said.
"It is a huge amount of water which either needs to be trucked in or sourced from underground.
"Fracking is an extremely water-intensive practice, and to force that on a community scarce of water, while two thirds of the NT is in drought, is irresponsible."
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