In September, 2016, Australia’s Northern Tier put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until a study on the environmental, social, and economic risks of the process was completed. Last week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced the Northern Territory Government has accepted all 135 recommendations made in the independent study and lifted the moratorium.
“We have accepted the key finding of the report – that if all the recommendations are implemented the risk from fracking can be reduced to an acceptable level,” stated Gunner. “We have also accepted the Inquiry’s advice about no go zones and coupled with areas where there is no petroleum potential, 49% of the Territory will be frack free, including in National Parks, Conservation Areas, Indigenous Protected Areas, towns, residential and strategic assets, and areas of high cultural, environmental or tourism value.”
The recommendations include key elements such as:
- Environmental Management Plans for hydraulic fracturing be assessed by the EPA and signed off by the Minister for the Environment;
- Strict new requirements to be met before exploration approval is granted including codes of practice for well integrity and well decommissioning, development of wastewater management frameworks, the requirement for gas companies to obtain a water license;
- Strict new requirements to be met before production can take place including the development of robust and transparent monitoring strategies, discussions with industry and pastoralists regarding land access requirements and compensation, and release of all environmental management plans for public comment;
- Broad new powers to sanction non-compliance, civil enforcement proceedings and increased criminal penalties for environmental harm.
A concern about increased greenhouse gas emissions were voiced, and Mr. Gunner vowed they would partner with the Prime Minister and the Federal Leader of the Opposition to offset all additional emissions. A draft climate change policy is promised to be out by the end of the year.
“These reforms will require significant additional resources and we have approved $5.33 million over three years to implement the 135 recommendations,” stated Gunner. “This will ensure that our unique environment is protected while much needed new jobs are created – particularly in remote and regional parts of the Territory. In line with the recommendations of the report, the Government will be ensuring industry pays its fair share through an appropriate cost recovery model.”
While the announcement drew criticism from environmentalists, it raised industry hopes for developing the 540,000 square miles of the Northern Territory to reach its 88 trillion cubic feet of identified unconventional gas reserves.
The design and implementation of the assessments will be rolled out in July, 2018, with the implementation of thirty of the priority recommendations to allow exploration including hydraulic fracturing to be completed by the end of the year.
Information on the Final Report, maps, and fact sheets can be found on the government’s website.