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Territorians launch Supreme Court challenge to fracking approval in legal first

The Northern Territory Government has given the green light for fracking. This decision puts our water, country and climate in danger. Drilling has already started, but there is still time to stop full scale production.

Territorians are standing up to hold them to account for failing to consider the long-term climate impacts. 

The Central Australian Frack Free Alliance (CAFFA) via their lawyers the Environmental Defenders Office launched legal action earlier this year over the NT government's decision to approve Tamboran Resources to drill and frack 12 exploration wells in the Beetaloo Basin, North of Elliott.

 Help us fund our legal costs here

Our case, the first climate challenge in the NT supreme court, was heard in early November. Our Laywers are arguing the Minister should have considered the climate impacts of future production when deciding whether to allow exploration drilling to go ahead. They have asked the court to test the validity of the Minister’s approval.

CAFFA and supporters rally in front of the court case before the hearing begins. Picture: Pema Tamang Pakhrin.

Despite many years of community advocacy, the NT government is still refusing to listen to the majority of Territorians who don’t want this polluting industry.  

Nanna Elaine Peckham has been speaking up against fracking for many years. 

"The NT Government hasn’t listened to our voices. We want them to really consider what is at stake if fracking in the NT goes ahead. It will hurt Country and heat up the world.”

Elaine Peckham, Arrernte Traditional Owner

                       

“Emissions from this fracking industry are only going to fast track climate change and that scares me. For me and my family, for the community, and for future generations, it is really a catastrophe.”

    Heather McIntyre, member of CAFFA

Heather has lived in Central Australia for 50 years, and is a founding member of CAFFA. 

Like many Territorians, she has become increasingly frustrated at being ignored by the NT government. After years of advocacy, door-to-door surveys, submissions, rallies and forums, she feels there is no alternative but to take more formal action through the court system.

                               

                   

Fracking means the industrialisation of Country

At full production, the NT government envisages 200-300 wells drilled each year for 20-40 years (DISER, 2021 [ref. a]). That’s up to 12,000 wells . 

“The outback is iconic and part of the Australian identity. Large scale clearing of land and water extraction, alongside climate change, will threaten the ecosystems in the Beetaloo and beyond. The industrialisation of this landscape via fracking would be heart-breaking."

   Heather McIntyre

                          

This is a satellite photo (Google maps, 2023) of fracking fields west of Dalby in Queensland, showing industrialisation of the landscape.

                               

The Beetaloo basin (purple) is the area of the NT that Tamboran wants to frack.

Fracking will add fuel to the fire of the climate crisis while endangering our precious water supply

1. Climate change threatens our ability to live in the Territory

The NT is already getting hotter (ref. b). We can expect more hot days (over 35°C), increasing intensity of extreme weather events such as storms, cyclones, floods, droughts and bushfires, unpredictable rainfall, and rising sea levels. Climate change will affect the fundamental determinants of health, including climate stablity, air quality, water quality, water security, food security, community cohesion and, in some locations, geological stability. These impacts will fall disproportionately on Aboriginal communities, worsening existing health, housing and liveability issues, and causing displacement from Country.

2. Over-extraction and contamination risks to groundwater

The NT Government inquiry into fracking concluded that the gas industry would require at least 2,500-5,000ML water/year, extracted from aquifers already relied upon by communities and other industries.  Heavy localised extraction, and dewatering of aquifers as a result of fracking operations, can cause aquifer levels to drop, impacting other water users and groundwater-dependent ecosystems.

What’s more, fracking gambles with our clean water supply: Global analysis suggests that there is a 1:10 probability of surface water contamination from a spill at a gas site, and 1:100 chance of groundwater contamination. With thousands of wells planned for the Beetaloo Basin, the odds are not good. There have already been chemical spills here in the NT, and production hasn't even started. 


“Our water has taken 180 million years to get here. We can turn on the tap, and that's how long it's taken to get here. Meanwhile there will be billions and billions of litres of water used by this industry. Unmetered. And because of the chemicals used in this process - some of them unknown - some of them carcinogenic - our precious groundwater is being put at risk of contamination.”

Heather McIntyre

3. Fracking the Beetaloo is a carbon bomb

Analysis from RepuTex (ref. c) found that annual lifecycle emissions from fracking the Beetaloo would average up to 89Mt per year under a ‘high production’ scenario. For comparison, the NT’s entire emissions footprint for 2020 was 17.3Mt. 

"The Northern Territory government must have missed the part where the world's scientists said any new gas or coal would blow our chances of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. Loudly and repeatedly," Climate Council head of advocacy Dr Jennifer Rayner said.

CAFFA says that the Minister did not adequately consider the risks this project poses to Territorians.


 

                                                           

Dianne Newham, member of CAFFA

“In the 9 or 10 years that CAFFA's been going, there's been growing pressure on the water - the whole Singleton Station issue obviously stands out; we've felt climate change more and more - we've had some really terrible hot summers down here and some really dry times and that's just getting worse and worse. The lack of social licence is just being ignored. So all of these things have gotten tighter, and the government is still not listening, which is why CAFFA has decided to the government to court, take Tamboran to court.”

                                                    

Hannah Ekin, member of CAFFA

“With fracking the damage occurs cumulatively and over time. But every time there’s a couple of wells here, a couple of wells there, the government says 'oh well, a couple of wells is fine', but what we know is those few wells lead to hundreds or thousands of wells. We need a frank discussion in our community and in politics about the impact of this whole industry, and this is what we're calling for in going to court and challenging the minister's approval.”

 

The climate crisis presents global risks to life, health and wellbeing. The greatest burden is falling on families and communities in the global South, including our Pacific island neighbours. 


The Australian Government has committed to doing its fair share to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. The 1.4 billion tonnes of CO2 that fracking the Beetaloo Basin will release into the atmosphere is incompatible with Australia’s global commitments to human rights and climate justice.

                     

Help fund our legal costs here

If you would like to get involved with CAFFA and be part of the campaign to stop fracking you can let us know via this form.    Click here to go to the form.

Or, you can contact Hannah at [email protected]

 

References

(a) Unlocking the Beetaloo; The Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan, Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources; 2021

(b) NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub. 2020. Climate change in the Northern Territory: state of the science and cliimate change impacts. NESP ESCC Hub, Melbourne

(c) Analysis of Beetaloo Gas Basin Emissions & Carbon Costs; Australian carbon advisory, Reputex; October 2021