Back what unites us

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Back what unites us
by Mark Swindles, Territory Tourism Operator

(Full text of op ed published in the NT news Sunday, April 1st, 2018)

Stand up for the NT and say no to fracking – CLICK HERE TO HAVE YOUR SAY

“As a long-term Territory tourism operator working across Central Australia, I have a clear message: ban fracking. It’s time to back the industries that unite the Territory.

The Inquiry’s report debunks gas industry claims it will offer a boost to our economy. For a tiny increase in mainly FIFO jobs on remote frack sites, our sustainable industries like farming, fishing and tourism would be forced to compete with gasfields for clean water.

Evidence from other regions show gasfields displace jobs in other sectors like farming and tourism, has minimal spill-over employment and causes major disruption to regional economies.

If fracking goes ahead, the report tells us the impacts on our landscapes, climate and communities would be massive. But the biggest impact would be to our water.

‘Based on the evidence from the US, the Panel finds that there is significant potential for accidental releases, leaks and spills of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and fluids, flowback and produced water’.

It concludes ‘there is insufficient information to permit a full assessment of the risks to groundwater resources from any shale gas industry’.

It says fracking pollution is inevitable – but we don’t know enough about our waterways and our groundwater to fully understand the risks? Not sounding like a safe bet to me.

The report notes each gas well will use and pollute about 40 million litres of water. That’s 16 Olympic swimming pools of water per well. And the report says there will be at least 1000 fracked wells. With access to clean water underpinning so much of the Territory economy we simply can’t afford to let a new fracking industry put us all at risk.

I’m also concerned about the impact on our successful tourism industry, one of the Territory’s biggest employers and wealth creators. The Panel admits that the industry will cause industrialisation of our iconic landscapes and ‘requires high volumes of heavy-vehicle traffic’, including ‘more than 3,300 one-way truck trips for the development of each horizontal well’.

Anyone that’s driven the Stuart Highway in peak tourist season when roads are teaming with convoys of families, grey nomads and international tourists in motor-homes will know the risks.

Tourists already complain about how stressful and dangerous our roads can be. Putting significantly more trucks on the road will not help improve their Territory experience. If they don’t like it they will stay away and we know just how powerful word of mouth is to the tourist industry, especially for those who chose to explore the Territory by road.

But for me, the most important finding is that Territorians living and running businesses in the regions do not want it. The Inquiry found ‘the overwhelming consensus was that hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas in the NT is not safe, is not trusted and is not wanted in the NT.’

Forcing this unwanted industry on the Territory can only entrench community conflict with the gas fracking industry. The Chief Minister must govern for the whole Territory, not the gas fracking industry. We need to be backing our strong, sustainable industries and pursuing development opportunities that can unite us – not putting our economy at risk with fracking. Forcing fracking on our bush communities set to suffer in a gasfield zone.

The Inquiry’s economic report found the fracking industry was unlikely to be commercially viable, due to high costs of remote extraction and gas transport. The report, in the case scenario, fracking would employ just 524 people over 25 years. That’s bugger all compared to our strong farming, pastoral, fishing and tourism.

The regulatory overhaul needed to try and reduce risks from the industry would be a huge cost burden to the NT. But polling shows most of us don’t trust the gas industry or government to implement the regulations necessary to protect our land and water. All of these costs mean a fracking industry is less and less viable.

Fracking will have a detrimental effect on existing industries that have served the Territory well. From my experience in the remote tourism industry, I can tell you that fracking gasfields with a thousand wells, flare stacks and compressions stations are not something you can hide. The sight, the sound the smell of fumes, the thousands of waste haul trucks clogging up our highway in the dry season – that’s not the Territory tourism experience I want to try to sell. Visitors are already telling us gasfields will hurt Territory tourism.

It is heartening to see polling that confirms most Territorians support a continued ban on fracking. That’s the message I hear everywhere I go, whether urban, regional or remote. No one wants to live in a gasfield.

My message to Territorians and to the NT Government is to end the division, and back what unites us instead.

Let’s get on with growing tourism and making the most of good cattle and food prices. Let’s work with Indigenous land managers to expand their critical work, and tell our great outback stories. Let’s get on with opening up transport connections to growing Asia. Let’s grow local jobs by repowering the Territory with clean energy, expanding investment in our regional areas and helping them thrive.

Fracking gasfields only put all these other great opportunities at risk. It’s time to ban fracking and back a vision for development that benefits us all.”

Stand up for the NT and say no to fracking CLICK HERE TO HAVE YOUR SAY