A Northern Territory-based environmental group has launched legal action against the Federal Resources Minister over a $21 million grant he awarded to a fracking company for its gas projects in the Beetaloo Basin.
The Environment Centre NT, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), filed proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia yesterday evening against Minister Keith Pitt over the lawfulness of the grant.
Mr Pitt announced the decision to award the $21 million to gas company Imperial Oil and Gas earlier this month under the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program, a program set up to provide funding for gas exploration activities in the Northern Territory's Beetaloo sub-basin.
The legal proceeding argues that the Minister was required to make reasonable inquiries into a range of matters before awarding the grant, including how exploitation of the Beetaloo sub-basin would impact climate change and Australia's ability to meet its Paris Agreement obligations.
Grants under this program are subject to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) which requires that the Minister not approve the expenditure unless he "is satisfied, after making reasonable inquiries, that the expenditure would be a proper use of...money.
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"The law requires the Minister to be satisfied that the expenditure is a proper use of money having made reasonable inquiries. We say that means inquiries into the risks of a heating climate if the heart of the Northern Territory was opened up to fracking," Environment Centre NT Co-Director Dr Kirsty Howey said.
"It's not apparent from the available public documents that the Minister made any inquiries about the climate change risks of gas developments in the Beetaloo."
EDO CEO David Morris said they will argue on their client's behalf that Mr Pitt's decision to award the grant was therefore invalid.
When asked for comment, Mr Pitt said the proceedings were "another example of activists using the courts with baseless allegations to try and delay nationally important resources projects."
"This latest case of green "lawfare" declared on legitimate projects threatens to delay an estimated 6000 new jobs being delivered for the Northern Territory along with around $37 billion in economic activity," he said.
"Grants are provided to companies that possess the highly specialised skills to meet the challenges of developing the Basin as determined by an expert assessment panel."
"Awarding of the grants was conducted in accordance with the process established through the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program Grant Opportunity Guidelines."
Empire Energy, of which Imperial Oil and Gas is a subsidiary, was contacted for comment.
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