The NT Government has been slammed by environmental advocates for awarding a grant for fracking research to be done by a university centre partially funded by oil and gas giant Santos.
The grant, worth just under $325,000, was awarded to the University of Queensland's Centre for Natural Gas Research in April to conduct the Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) study, which is intended to collect baseline data to measure environmental impacts against prior to gas exploration licenses being granted.
The Centre is partially funded by Santos, which has exploration wells in the Territory's Beetaloo Basin near Borrolooa, and is seeking to expand its operations.
Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said the grant accounts to a breach of public trust.
"The Northern Territory Gunner Government cannot expect the public to trust oil and gas research conducted by an organisation that is funded to do the work of oil and gas companies and not be upfront about it," he said.
"It is a breach of trust that the Gunner Government would promote the UQ appointment as independent and transparent and yet fail to mention that the unit undertaking the work is funded by and works directly with the gas fracking industry.
"The SREBA should have been complete before fracking rigs were allowed to roll out across the Territory. The decision by the Gunner Government to appoint a gas industry linked body to conduct this research is a clear example of why people are concerned the government might be scrambling and working to the bidding of the gas industry.
"We need to see evidence that the Gunner Government has any interest in delivering a properly independent, scientifically sound assessment of the fracking industry's potential social, cultural, and economic impact."
NT Environment Minister Eva Lawler said the government was "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."
"The Northern Territory Government has approved a SREBA Framework, which provides technical guidance as to how baseline studies should be undertaken. Region-specific Scopes of Works are being progressively developed for each of the baseline studies in the Beetaloo basin, with overall coordination and management by my department," she said.
"The SREBA will be completed before any production-level approvals for shale gas development in the Beetaloo can be considered.
"As part of University of Queensland's processes, there are a number of steps built into the project to ensure transparency and accountability. This includes the establishment of an Independent Advisory Panel, made up of some of Australia's most esteemed academics and practitioners."
When asked for comment, a spokesman from Santos said their funding did not sway the research centre.
"Independent and expert scientific research is incredibly important and Santos is proud to boost funding for Australia's research and science community," the spokesman said.
"All research is conducted independently in accordance with the university's governance requirements."
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