February 7, 2016

The prospect of a fracking moratorium after this year’s NT election threatens real economic harm for no environmental gain.

Labor says the science of fracking needs further investigation, but how many more inquiries are needed?

The Australian Council of Learned Academies, the Chief Scientist of NSW, a WA Parliamentary Inquiry, a host of international studies – and in the NT, a comprehensive report by Dr Allan Hawke – have all concluded any risks associated with fracking can be effectively managed by a robust regulatory regime.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, said late last year: “the evidence is that, if properly regulated, it’s completely safe.”

For the gas industry, Labor’s stance is disappointing and unnecessary, but it is not the impact on the industry that matters most.

A moratorium on fracking will have immediate negative impacts on Territorians.

A study by Deloitte Access Economics found that a successful shale gas industry in the NT had the potential to deliver up to 6300 new jobs and increase NT Government revenues by almost $1 billion by 2040. That’s a lot of money for roads, schools, hospitals and other community benefits.

But Territorians don’t have to wait that long for real benefits.

The companies planning investment in onshore gas exploration and production in the NT – Central Petroleum, Inpex, Origin, Pangaea, Santos and others – will invest hundreds of millions of dollars here in the next few years.

Benefits are already being shared but they would cease under a moratorium.

This includes tens of millions of dollars that go to the Traditional Owners, who have reviewed and approved planned activities on their land. Also lost will be the tens of millions that will go to local businesses in Katherine, Mataranka, Borroloola, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and other communities that host gas industry operations in surrounding areas. Our partnership with pastoralists will see roads, fences and gates improved among other benefits.

Fracking is not an optional extra for the gas industry. It is part and parcel of the safe production of natural gas; it has been proven over decades around Australia and around the world; and it has been used for decades in the NT without incident.

False and exaggerated claims of industry opponents do not alter these facts.

Another fact should weigh on Territorians’ minds. Banning fracking will cut gas production in the NT.

Less supply will mean higher prices for gas and electricity, as virtually all of the NT’s power supply comes from natural gas.

There is no doubt industry and government must do more to address the genuine questions many in the community have about the impacts and benefits of the gas industry – especially in areas where we have not previously operated.

But this is an issue of better communication, not the science, and we can do that without a moratorium.

In fact, good engagement is occurring in the areas where these activities have or will be taking place.

The industry’s primary focus has been working closely with Traditional Owners, their Land Councils and the pastoralists to ensure there is informed consent.

Stopping the industry in its tracks, denying benefits to these people, and Territorians generally – all because of false claims and short-term politics – would be a tragedy.

This blog post was first published as an opinion piece in The Sunday Territorian on 7 February.