Frack Free NT Newsletter – April

FRACK-FREE NT CAMPAIGN UPDATE                                      APRIL 2015

Dear Supporters,

The campaign to lock the gate on fracking in the Northern Territory continues to gather pace as we enter the Dry season with a successful series of remote and rural area educational roadshow meetings that saw our team travel as far as the Gulf of Carpenteria to speak to residents about the risks of fracking. The roadshow will continue with meetings scheduled for Arnhem Land in late May where residents are resisting both offshore and onshore gas and oil mining proposals.

While in March the Katherine Town Council and Wagait Beach Shire Council became the first NT local government bodies to instate a moratorium on fracking, joining 66 other councils throughout Australia, the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance (CAFFA) continues to campaign the Alice Springs Town Council to take action and join the fight to protect the Alice Springs’ water supply from reckless gas miners.

Meanwhile the critical issue of unfettered mining access to pastoral land is being hotly debated in the news, with landholders urging the NT Government to enact veto rights to block frackers and miners entering properties and the East Coast Gas Connector pipeline proposal is a step closer to being realised with the selection of preferred contractors announced.

There is as always much to do and many fronts on which we need to be active to halt the growth of this toxic, risky unconventional gas industry in the NT and we welcome any suggestions or offers of assistance our supporters can provide to grow the campaign.

Thanks on behalf of the growing network of NT Frack-Free Alliance member groups for your continued support and commitment to building a gasfield-free Territory!

Katherine launches Frack-Free NT Roadshow Launch

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Speakers: Daniel Tapp, Big River Station       Nancy McDinny and Gadrian Hoosan, Borroloola     David Morris, Environmental Defender’s Office

The first Gasfield-free NT Roadshow launched in Katherine on March 24 with strong support from local residents and a broad range of speakers and musicians joining in to support the cause.

Pastoralist Daniel Tapp from Big River Station in the Roper region spoke of concerns held by farmers that water contamination from a failed gas well or flooded fracking waste water pond could permanently impact pastoral or agricultural operations and create untold health, environmental and cattle industry impacts.

Colin Judulu Neale a Djungan Traditional Owner from Yarrabah in North Queensland spoke of having seen the damaging impacts of gasfields in his state, the fight to protect sacred Mt Mulligan in far north QLD from fracking and of the need to consider the far-reaching risks to neighbouring land and water sources if fracking proceeded.

Katherine Musos Tom E Lewis, Katie Oliver, Megan Ashely, General Vibe and the Sandridge Band from Borroloola entertained the crowd and around 150 people turned up to support the cause despite the threat of cyclone.

Doctor Bruce Hocking warned that fracking chemicals in drinking water could be this generation’s thalidomide, saying despite significant progress on studying the health effects of methane gas and fracking chemicals there were still many unknowns for residents living near gasfields leaking methane or exposed to BTEX chemicals used in the fracking process and a moratorium to halt the industry while this was investigated should be enacted.

Sandra Nelson, President of the Katherine Labor branch announced NT Labor’s unanimous adoption of a policy supporting a 7 year moratorium on fracking. Motions were brought to conference by concerned members of the Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Katherine branches.

Afterwards the roadshow team, including environment and legal experts, Traditional Owners and pastoralists visited communities including Jilkminngan, Borroloola, Robinson River and Adelaide River to talk about fracking, premiere a new short film featuring communities from Arnhem Land to the Central Desert resisting fracking operations and answer questions and share information on how to build a network of gas-free communities across the NT.

The Frack-Free NT Roadshow team are keen to support individuals and communities concerned about the impacts of gas exploration and extraction in their local area. Whether you live rurally or remotely we can help to organise or host an information session in your community, get information packs to you including short film resources and maps of areas under licence application and ways to lodge objections to exploration, or join our email update list to stay in touch with the campaign at frackfreent@gmail.com

Jilkminngan community rejects fracking licence granted to Gina Rinehart subsidiary

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Mangarrayi Elder Shelagh Conway, local Roper River pastoralist Daniel Tapp and Charmaine Roth speak at the Frack-Free NT Roadshow community meeting in Jilkminngan.

In March the NT government granted approval for a petroleum exploration licence over the Mangarrayi Land Trust encompassing the community of Jilkminngan and surrounding pastoral stations south of Mataranka and north of Daly Waters. When the roadshow team visited to present at a community meeting on the process and risks of hydraulic fracturing many in the community were outraged to hear for the first time that their land appeared to be signed away without the Traditional Owners’ knowledge or consent.

The NT Government have boasted that this ‘historic agreement’, the first approval on Aboriginal land through the Northern Land Council, will help alleviate poverty and provide jobs in gas mining to Aboriginal residents. Yet after hearing that their land had been approved for fracking by joint venture Minerals Australia and Jacaranda Minerals, a subsidiary of mining giant Gina Rinehart, over 140 residents of the land trust signed a statement to the Chief Minister claiming consultation was inadequate and calling for the licence approval to be revoked.

The Northern Land Council conducted consultations on the agreement and both the land council and NT Government have stated that 1km exclusion zones around community living areas and surface waterways will act as a safeguard to any potential contamination incident, but Mangarrayi Traditional Owners have challenged this, stating that the iconic Roper region spring-fed rivers and underground connected aquifers mean any accident during drilling or a well failure would have risks for the entire region including neighbouring landholders reliant on water for farming, pastoralism, fishing and bore water.

The Jilkminngan case is a significant test case for the fracking industry because while landholders with Aboriginal freehold title are entitled to consultation prior to exploration licences gaining approval, landholders only have power of veto at the earliest stage when little project detail including the size and scope of any potential gas project is unknown. Gasfields can take several years to ramp up to full production but once sampling, seismic and other tests and exploratory wells have been drilled scale up can be rapid and a few test wells can quickly become thousands of operational wells. This means gas companies are not required to disclose the full cumulative impact of its project to landholders, land councils or the NT Government at the exploration stage. If exploration is approved, landholders lose any further right to object to mining.

The strong and growing opposition to fracking in the community means Jacaranda Minerals and the NT Government will have a significant fight on their hands if they fail to review and revoke approval for Petroleum Licence 154.

Mangarrayi Land Trust residents have written to the NT Government and NLC to state their objections. The statement in part reads: Chief Minister Adam Giles has claimed that mining and fracking will create jobs in our communities, but we want to look after the country, not dig it up and destroy it.

We are putting the NT Government on notice that this project does not have our consent and we are preparing to take action to stop any attempts to harm our lands. The NT Government must immediately withdraw the exploration licence. We will work together with other communities and landholders to keep our community gas-free.”

Borroloola and Robinson River united to stop fracking

The communities of Borroloola and Robinson River have a proud pastoral tradition, working on and caring for country in the South West Gulf of Carpentaria, and a long history of witnessing invasive mining practices damage the pristine natural environment and local waterways.

Redbank Copper mine first started in 1916 and copper was mined on the edge of the Wollogorang river over several decades. Poor government regulation and a lack of corporate responsibility on behalf of successive operators have left Redbank as one of the largest legacy disasters in Territory and Australian mining history. As the slow leach of copper oxidised tailings spreads more than 40kms downstream of its source it leaves waterways devoid of life and an unnatural aquamarine blue colour. Pushed further downstream each Wet season the problem has now become a headache for the QLD government and communities across the border too.

The NT Government has estimated clean up and water remediation would cost $100 million. A recent focus on rehabilitation works has seen signs warning of contaminated water erected at creek crossings, but cattle from surrounding stations continue to drink the poisoned water left unfenced and untreated.

McArthur River mine near Borroloola has been approved to expand as the world’s largest open cut lead and zinc mine, but it too has significant heavy metal contamination problems which leach into the mighty McArthur River. Its abundant marine life supplies the daily diet of residents and recreational fishers alike.

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NT Government mining regulation in action: Settlement Creek, downstream of Redbank Mine 2015 and McArthur River Mine billowing smoke, 2014

Traditional Owner groups and local residents have appealed to government over successive decades to improve regulation and rehabilitate damaged areas at both mine sites but have been ignored.

As the Frack-Free NT Roadshow visited communities and outstations in the Gulf the story of invasive mining wrecking the country was repeated frequently. Residents were shocked and angered to hear that despite the NT Government having no environmental assessment framework in place or strict regulations governing fracking, it continued to grant exploration licences to gas companies throughout the Gulf.

Pastoralists and Aboriginal land holders from the Garawa Land Trust and surrounding cattle stations, many of which also support cultural and fishing tourism operations, have vowed to lock the gate on any new mining or fracking in the region. Residents plan to link up with family and communities across the QLD border to block plans for pipelines and gasfields wherever they are proposed.

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Borroloola pastoralists Amos and Peter prepare to Lock the Gate       Fracking explained in Garawa and English on the roadshow

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Garawa artist Jacky Green with painting on the risks of mining and fracking in the Gulf     The roadshow team talk to cattlemen in Robinson River

Pastoralists bail up on fracking

Since the gas companies came to town many farmers, pastoralists and others who rely on the land for their living have been shocked to discover their properties are under application or have been granted approval for access to mining and gas companies. Under the Petroleum Act very few rights are afforded to landholders on pastoral leases to prevent invasive mining.

It is this passage in the NT Petroleum Act creating consternation for landholders concerned about the risks of fracking, particularly to groundwater quality or existing cattle operations, when miners access their properties:

The holder of a petroleum title has the right to:

  • Occupy land for the purpose of exploring for petroleum in the title area (s29)
  • Access the title area by the shortest practical route and construct a road or carry out other works to ensure access to the title area. (s65)
  • May enter land with such machinery, equipment and workmen as is necessary to mark out and construct the road (s65)
  • Use the water resources of the title area for his domestic use and for any purposes in connection with his approved technical works programme and other exploration (s29), but must not use water artificially conserved by the landowner without consent.

The Cattleman’s Association of the NT and many station owners and pastoralists have called on the NT Government to act now to grant landholders rights to block unwanted mining on their land, and access to sensitive water catchment areas and areas of ecological and cultural significance. So far NT Mines Minister Dave Tollner has failed to heed landholder’s concerns and insists that gas and mining companies and landowners can co-exist with just voluntary agreements and without the need for legislative backing.

The Frack-Free Alliance NT is assisting landholders by providing template letters for your elected parliamentarian, Mines Minister Dave Tollner and the Chief Minister outlining your objections to fracking and mining access on your land and declaring intentions to block access. For a copy contact us at frackfreent@gmail.com

Read more on the debate over mining access here.

Manangorah and Warby Stations south of Borroloola have had fences knocked down and areas of land cleared without consultation by shale gas companies

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Alice Springs Town Council Fails to Take Action to Protect Town Water Supplies

 On Monday 13 April Alice Spring Town Council considered a moratorium on fracking until the Northern Territory Government can provide a 100% guarantee that Alice Springs water supplies will be safe.

Alice Springs draws it’s water from theRoe Creek borefield in the Amadeus Basin, which the Northern Territory government considers to be a ‘large exploration target’ for shale gas. There are currently 5 pending permit applications from Central Petroleum and it’s affiliates to explore for shale gas in the Amadeus basin.

Disappointingly the motion was unsupported by council 5 votes to 3. Councillors who voted against the moratorium motion deferred to wait to discuss it further until they have received more information on the Hawke report, despite the fact that they have recently had a presentation by the Executive Director for Energy, Department of Mines and Energy specifically on the report, and that the report is also publicly available to download & read.

The motion is still to be officially voted on at the upcoming Council meeting on Monday 27 April.

The Central Frack Free Alliance is urging all Alice Springs residents to voice their concerns about fracking and the impacts on our water supply to all Councillors in the coming week.

 

Fracking Pipeline an Economic Pipe-dream

 In April the NTG announced the 4 companies that have been shortlisted to develop the ‘North East Gas Interconnector’ – a pipeline that will connect the NT to the east coast gas grid and take fracked gas from the NT to market.

While the NTG spin is that the NEGI will transport gas from existing onshore & offshore gas fields the sole purpose of it is to make an expanded shale gas industry viable in the NT, which will require the use of widespread fracking.

The NTG has claimed that the quality of submissions to develop the billion dollar pipeline have been of such a high calibre that it is inevitable that the pipeline will go ahead, however one of the 4 shortlisted companies – Merlin Energy Australia Pty Ltd has just $100 worth of equity and is run out of a suburban Sydney home which doesn’t exactly instil faith in the selection process or significant investment of tax payer dollars into the project.

The successful proponent for the pipeline is expected to be announced in September.

There are 3 proposed routes for the pipeline – 2 which connect existing pipelines at Tennant Creek to Mt Isa / Boulia and one connecting Alice Springs to Moomba in SA. The latter route will cut through the proposed wilderness area of Simpson Desert and the Lake Eyre Basin with numerous river crossings, creating significant damage in these pristine arid environments.

The NTG is claiming that the pipeline will create ‘real jobs’ in the bush and open up remote areas for other economic activity as well. However the experience from the expansion of the gas industry and related infrastructure in Queensland is a “boom” town effect where any local economic gain is largely limited to the construction phase and short-lived, with many established gasfields in QLD now suffering major job losses as lower oil and gas prices globally impact the industry.

Instead the Territory needs sustainable economic development which would be better provided by investment in large scale renewable energy projects such as solar.

We can’t afford the significant investment of tax payer dollars into the economic fallacy of the pipeline.

The NT Frack Free Alliance will be building a campaign to stop the fracking pipeline and shift this investment into sustainable clean energy solutions – more info coming soon!

To register your interest to be involved email: frackfreecoordinator@gmail.com

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Proposed pipeline routes. Image from NTG Pipeline Industry Briefing pack Nov 2014.

 

Upcoming Events

Monday April 27: Attend the Alice Springs Town Council meeting at the ASTC Chambers from 6pm to encourage elected councillors to stand up for a moratorium on fracking and to stop gas companies seeking to frack near to the desert town’s sole underground water supply.

Tuesday May 5: If you’re interested in learning about the activities of the NT Frack-Free Alliance we hold an over the phone meeting to coordinate the growing Territory-wide frack-free campaign on the first Tuesday of each month with representatives from the various member groups taking part. To join in please contact Lauren on 0413 534 125.

Saturday May 10: Frack-free Adelaide River meeting to begin mapping a strategy for undertaking community surveys to create a gasfield-free region. Meeting followed by BBQ at 150 Strickland Road, Adelaide River, from 4pm Saturday May 10th. All welcome.

Saturday June 6: Frack-free Alliance stall and campaign presence at the Adelaide River Campdraft, ARSS Club. Come and lend a hand and help local and visiting pastoralists lock the gate to fracking on their properties.

Wednesday June 10: The hit feature length film Frackman currently taking East Coast audiences by storm will premiere in Darwin at the Deckchair Cinema in June, with later screenings planned for Katherine and Alice Springs. Frackman is a documentary featuring Dayne Pratzy, an accidental activist from Roma, western QLD, forced to act to protect the land he loves from fracking and the encroachment of the big gas companies. For more information on the film and details of upcoming NT screenings check out frackmanthemovie.com