THE battle over unconventional gas exploration has reached the heart of the nation with Alice Springs residents marshalling their forces against what they fear are plans to frack near Uluru.
Energy giant Santos, in a joint venture with Central Petroleum, has rights to explore for oil and gas to within 75km of the desert rock that rivals the Great Barrier Reef as an international tourism draw card.
More than 100 Alice Springs locals met this week to prepare to campaign against what they consider to be a threat to the environmental and cultural values of the red centre.
The Northern Territory government is aggressively promoting oil and gas exploration with petroleum exploration licences set to cover over an estimate 90 per cent of the territory.
Lock the Gate spokeswoman Boudicca Cerese said that drilling near Uluru bordered on sacrilege.
“It is an iconic tourism area, a very important cultural area and one of the last places in Australia where there isn’t industrialisation,’’ Ms Cerese said. “To think of the scale of industrialisation that a shale gas production field would represent is complete anathema to what we have there in terms of that unique cultural and tourist location.”
Central Petroleum chief executive Richard Cottee said permit 125, which bordered Uluru, covered an area “half the size of Tasmania’’.
The company has conducted work within 200km of Uluru but Mr Cottee said it was a conventional gas well with a target depth of between 2km and 3km.
Nonetheless, Mr Cottee said the company recognised there were concerns about unconventional gas exploration and Central Petroleum would participate in the Northern Territory’s inquiry into fracking.
“We have no present plans to frack in 125,” Mr Cottee said. “Obviously, depending on what happens in the future, we may have plans.’’
A Santos spokesman said the company was looking for conventional and shale gas reserves in permit area 125.
He said the company had a long history of gas exploration in similar arid terrain in the Cooper Basin of South Australia, including fracking more than 1000 wells.
Brisbane-based Mr Cottee has a long history in unconventional gas exploration.
He was responsible for proving up the massive coal-seam gas reverses in southeast Queensland that were sold to British Gas and will be exported through Gladstone.
In central Australia, Mr Cottee said the most important issue was to deal with traditional owners.
“We see this is an issue that has to be addressed primarily not in the coffee shops of Carlton but with the traditional owners respecting their right to ownership of that land and their custodianship of it,’’ he said.
“Without going through that consultation it is not for me to impose my views on anyone.”