ALEC shines light on underground coal project

The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) faces an NT Civil and Administrative Tribunals hearing alongside the Department of Primary Industries and Resources in relation to a Freedom of Information request.

ALEC submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Primary Industries and Resources in September 2017 requesting the release of information in regards to the ‘proposed activities of Tristar Petroleum in the Pedirka basin’. The company has used lawyers to continually impede this process and had the case referred to the Information Commissioner.  On February 1 2019, the Information Commissioner found in ALEC’s and the Department’s favour ultimately finding no justification for the withholding of the information. On February 28, the company through its lawyers have appealed this decision and ALEC and the Department will be defending the release of the information at NTCAT at a date yet to be decided.

ALEC is preparing to defend the public interest in an NT Civil Administrative Tribunal appeal by the company against the release of information in regards to the proposed activities at the site near Apatula (Finke) community. ALEC has raised concerns about this project and the process since it was first discovered in the NT Government Gazette on August 5, 2016.

The decision to grant the ‘general reserve’ for coal was done hours before the Giles Government went into caretaker mode in August 2016. Tristar Petroleum, a private company from Texas, was granted a mineral authority over 15000km2 of land in the Pedirka Basin, on the Northern Territory border. This granting of land was made days after a $6000 donation was made to the Country Liberals and several months after Mines Minister and Treasurer at the time, Dave Tollner, allegedly visited the managers of the company as part of a taxpayer funded trip to the United States.

In the meantime, it is understood that some Native Title Holders for the area have signed an agreement with the company in support of the project. The Australian Government’s Bioregional Assessment for Coal basins for the Pedirka basin found that any dewatering of the aquifers in the Pedirka basin would have negative impacts on National Heritage-listed Dalhousie Springs in Witjira National Park.

‘This is a clear case of a private company using legal avenues to slow and hinder the release of important information in the public interest. ALEC has concerns that the banned practice of Underground Coal Gasification is being considered for this project. We are concerned that Traditional Owners have not been given the whole story in relation to this project’ said ALEC CEO Jimmy Cocking.

‘We have serious concerns about the nature of the granting of land for this project and the risk that this project poses to the natural and cultural heritage of this region. The pollution risks of coal gasification either above or below the ground are unacceptable.’

‘The world is abandoning coal. We need to be focusing on a clean energy future, not a dirty coal and gas fired one. ALEC will continue to shine a light on projects and issues shrouded in secrecy that have clear public interest. The NT Government has the power to clean up this mess – by not allowing it to proceed.’

A date for the NTCAT hearing is unknown at the time of writing.

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