The inquiry made a number of recommendations about regulations and initiatives to protect land and water, but its over-arching conclusion was that the ‘fracking’ risks were manageable, and with good regulation, in some cases could be eliminated altogether.
To kick off 2018, and note another milestone in the inquiry, a tweet from industry spokesman Matt Doman (Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association) summed it thus, directly quoting the report:
“In short, the Panel is of the opinion that with enactment of robust and rigorously enforced safeguards, the waters shall continue to flow ‘clear and cold out of the hills’ and the ‘dawn chorus’ of Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Budgerigars, Black Kites, Blue-winged Kookaburras ‘and scores of other bird voices’ shall continue to reverberate across the NT landscape notwithstanding the development of any onshore shale gas industry.”
The quote can be found on the final page of the 51-page summary of the NT inquiry draft report. It is accompanied by an image of brolgas in silhouette across the evening sky.
A page earlier, is the less prosaic version of the key finding (page 50 of the summary):
“No industry is completely without risk. And the development of any onshore shale gas industry in the NT is no exception.
“But having considered the most current available scientific literature and data from a wide range of sources, and noting the recent and continuing technological improvements in the extraction of onshore shale gas, the conclusion of this Inquiry is that the challenges and risks associated with any onshore shale gas industry in the NT are manageable…”
The latest milestone in the inquiry is last week’s release of a draft Social Impact Assessment Framework (Framework) produced for the Inquiry by consulting firm Coffey.
Activists were quick to criticise the Framework. Why? Because it did not do what they hoped it would; i.e. deliver no framework, supposedly because the concerns raised by some people were just too big to be addressed.
This is the nub of the situation in the NT. Activists are insistent that they know better than the experts. They insist that the risks are too big to be managed – that they have a better understanding of the science than the very scientists who have been engaged to inform the inquiry.
This is a similar pattern evident in activist responses wherever inquiries have been conducted into coal-seam gas or hydraulic fracturing.
As we have pointed out repeatedly, these inquiries (there have been 14) have overwhelmingly described the risk mitigation which has been successfully implemented in the industry worldwide and concluded the risks to be manageable, in many cases low, and no worse than any other extractive industry.
In short, the brolgas will continue to fly, the waters will continue to run and the owners and custodians of the land can look forward to mutual benefits with little fear of environmental calamity.
Those who claim this supposedly new and fearful technique of hydraulic fracturing must be stopped will likely gloss over the fact that it has been used safely South Australia since the 1960s and in the northern hemisphere since the 1940s.
The worldwide number of wells which have used fracking to release tight gas has now passed the 2.5 million mark. In all those decades, over so many fracking exercises, in countries from Australia to Canada, there has been no aquifer poisoning or other catastrophe.
A further round of hearings, community forums (and associated public commentary opportunities for the protest community) will start in regional areas next week and in Darwin in the first week of February. Final submissions (in response to the draft report) are due 2 February.
The inquiry is scheduled to complete its work by March. To read the most recent publicised submission, click here.