TOUGHER: CSG companies should be required to meet stricter environmental requirements.
TOUGHER: CSG companies should be required to meet stricter environmental requirements. DEAN LEWINS

Fracking moratorium lifted

UPDATE: The Labor Government's fracking moratorium has been lifted, as revealed exclusively by the NT News.

But 49 per cent of the Territory's landmass will be covered by "no go zones" and will remain off-limits to gas companies.

The decision was announced this morning.

The Government has endorsed all 135 of the recommendations made by the scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracturing, led by Justice Rachel Pepper. The report was handed to Government late last month. The Government has allocated $5.33 million over three years to put the recommendations in place.

Five of the recommendations have been given "in-principle support", with an implementation plan expected to be complete in July.

Those recommendations include that the Government introduce a charge for water for all onshore shale gas activities, that gas companies pay for maintenance for roads used by gas projects and that the Government enact a compensation scheme for pastoral lessees. In-principle support has also been given to the recommendation to amend NT court rules to not allow cost decisions to be made against someone who has brought litigation against the industry when that litigation is deemed to be "genuinely in the public interest".

The no go zones will cover areas of environmental, agricultural and cultural significance, as well as indigenous protected areas, national parks, towns and residential areas and places with significance to the tourism industry.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner, flanked by Nicole Manison.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner, flanked by Nicole Manison.

It's expected exploration will begin early next year. But full scale production will take much longer. Before production approvals are granted, strategic regional environmental and baseline assessments must be conducted. Those assessments are expected to take about three years to complete.

The report recommended Territory and Commonwealth governments seek to ensure there is no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by a Territory shale gas industry.

A draft offset and climate change policy is expected by the end of the year.

More to come.


EARLIER: The NT Government will today lift its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of onshore gas.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner will announce the decision this morning, ending an 18-month stand-off over the controversial practice.

Mr Gunner's office refused to comment last night, but it's understood Cabinet signed off on the final details of its response yesterday, following an independent scientific inquiry into the practice, better known as fracking.

That inquiry, headed by Justice Rachel Pepper, found the risks associated with fracking could be mitigated, if not eliminated, if the proper recommendations are put in place.

It's understood the Government will implement most, if not all, of the 135 recommendations from Justice Pepper's final report.

Environmentalists and some pastoralists have run a strong campaign opposing fracking. They disagree with Justice Pepper's assessment that the risks can be effectively mitigated, and have argued fracking could pollute local rivers and bores.

Left-wing think tank The Australia Institute has also argued the increase in greenhouse gases from fracking would be unacceptable, and that opening up new sources of fossil fuels like shale gas is "completely incompatible with Australia's commitments under the Paris Agreement".

But the business community and mining companies say the Government cannot ignore the industry's potential economic benefits now Justice Pepper's report has found the risks can be mitigated or eliminated.

MMC Australia general manager Owen Pike, who has led the pro-fracking campaign, said the decision to lift the moratorium would not immediately inject cash into the economy.

But he said it would give confidence that the economy would recover and that the flat jobs market would turn around.

Pro-Fracking Business Forum, Owen Pike Pic katrina Bridgeford.
Pro-Fracking Business Forum, Owen Pike Pic katrina Bridgeford.

"Given the level of public consultation and fight from local business to get this industry here, a yes decision allows local business to honourably demand opportunities for the foreseeable future," he said.

Last week Jemena, the company building the Northern Gas Pipeline between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa, said it would begin work on a $4 billion expansion of the project as soon as next year if the moratorium is lifted, provided the restrictions put in place still allow gas reserves in the Beetaloo Basin to be developed quickly.

That could be a major hiccup though, as one of Justice Pepper's recommendations is that exploration only be allowed to recommence once the regulations are in place.

Today's announcement will also provide a major boost for Mr Gunner's leadership.

Mr Gunner and his chief-of-staff Alf Leonardi stared down member's of Labor's left faction and powerful unions at the ALP's 2016 conference to prevent a permanent fracking ban being put in place.

A compromise deal saw Mr Gunner agree to a moratorium while Justice Pepper's inquiry was conducted.

The Chief Minister has since held firm despite major pressure from powerful unions, particularly the now-merged CFMEU and MUA.

Mr Gunner has consistently argued his Government would be guided by Justice Pepper's report in deciding if fracking should be banned, or allowed under highly-regulated circumstances in tightly-prescribed areas.

Those tightly prescribed areas are expected to be announced today.

Today's decision should also give the Government impetus to argue it should receive more funding from the Commonwealth.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison told the NT News last year the Federal Government was questioning whether the Territory's GST should be lowered in light of the fracking ban. But Mr Turnbull last week announced $5 billion for an airport rail link in Victoria, a state that has banned onshore gas fracking.

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