The Northern Territory Government has released the interim report of its independent inquiry into fraccing of onshore unconventional reservoirs in state.
The report details the activities undertaken by the Inquiry Panel to date and its preliminary analysis of some of the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Northern Territory.
The Beetaloo sub-basin is used in the report as a case study for preliminary analysis of water use, as it is the most prospective area for shale development in the Northern Territory.
Some of the panel’s preliminary findings and assessments include:
- The impact of onshore shale gas operations on surface water supply in semi-arid and arid areas of the NT is relatively low
- However, the report’s preliminary view is that the use of surface water for shale gas operations should be prohibited in arid and semi arid zones
- The implementation of ‘no go zones’ or ‘restricted activity zones’ for some areas such as national parks and reserves
- Fraccing should not occur during the wet season due to potential for evaporation ponds storing wastewater to overflow during high intensity rainfall events
- The panel’s preliminary view is that the reinjection of wastewater into groundwater should be prohibited
- Groundwater for use in fraccing should not occur unless modelling of the local groundwater system is undertaken and shows that there will no adverse impacts
- The land access regime needs to be improved
These are just a few of the report’s preliminary assessments.
The Inquiry Chair, Justice Rachel Pepper, said the Interim Report is a significant piece of work for the Inquiry.
“The Inquiry has undertaken a considerable amount of work since it began in December last year and it is important that the Inquiry provides an update to Territorians,” Justice Pepper said.
“The first stage of public hearings and community consultation conducted in March 2017 was focussed on identifying the risks and issues of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Northern Territory. A total of 293 submissions were received by the Inquiry so far, 37 public hearings were conducted and the Inquiry visited 17 towns and communities across the Territory, as well as numerous other stakeholder engagement activities.
“As a result of this consultation process, additional risks have been identified and taken into account by the Panel, which are outlined in the Interim Report.
“The Interim Report also sets out a methodology for assessing the risks and determining whether they can be mitigated to an acceptable level by appropriate regulatory safeguards.”
The interim report’s findings focus on creating some ‘no go zones’ for hydraulic fracturing, as well as a focus on the management of water.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) has welcomed the release of the interim report and said the inquiry was clearly taking a comprehensive approach and the industry would take time to study the report closely.
“The gas industry is pleased the interim report has been released on schedule and that the inquiry remains on track to be completed this year,” APPEA NT Director Matthew Doman said.
“We look forward to the panel concluding its work and enabling the NT Government to make a decision on development of the Territory’s abundant gas resources.
“The industry is ready to invest billions in the NT when – and if – the government’s fracking moratorium is lifted.”
Mr Doman said the gas industry’s view remained that the issues being examined by the inquiry had already been thoroughly investigated.
“While we don’t believe the inquiry is necessary, we acknowledge it was an election promise of the NT Government,” he said.
“As such, we will continue to support the inquiry to ensure its work is factual, complete and relevant to the NT.
“Numerous studies in Australia and overseas have confirmed that, properly regulated, our industry is safe.”
The Inquiry’s draft Final Report will be released towards the end of 2017.