Rural Darwin fired up over gas plans

Photo: Don't Frack the Territory/Facebook

About 40 people gathered at Reg Hillier House in Darwin’s rural area on August 15 to discuss threats posed by petroleum companies wanting to explore for oil and gas.

Applications for exploration under the Petroleum Act, which could include oil or gas, have reached the outer rural areas including the entire Cox Peninsula, parts of Humpty Doo and Howard Springs, the Dundee area and Litchfield National Park. Exploration may involve using the controversial method of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) if shale gas is found.

Darwin-based campaign group Don’t Frack the Territory organised the public meeting to ensure local residents – especially those whose land may be affected – knew about the exploration applications and what they could to about it.

Because of the weak regulatory framework in the Northern Territory Petroleum Act, the government and petroleum industries do not have to directly inform freehold title owners (pastoralists and property owners, for example) about applications to explore on their land. The law requires only that an ad be placed in newspapers.

For this reason, many rural area residents were unaware their land and surrounding areas was under threat, until environmental campaigners letterboxed properties and put up posters advertising a public meeting. People who came were understandably angry at their lack of rights and a lack of respect shown by government and industry alike.

Stuart Blanch from the Environment Centre NT outlined environmental concerns about a potential shale oil and gas boom in the NT. He pointed to the remote and undeveloped nature of much of the Territory, warning that the massive infrastructure needed to support the industry – roads, pipelines, increased truck traffic – would scar the landscape, threaten native species and lower property values.

He gave recent examples of things going wrong in the US shale industry and on coal seam gas fields along Australia’s east coast. “It’s not the industry’s best-case scenarios we have to worry about,” he said, “it’s the worst-case scenarios: the fugitive emissions, the contaminated water sources.”

Emma King, a local resident and member of Don’t Frack the Territory, highlighted the access rights petroleum companies have once exploration permits are granted: they can enter properties, build roads and use water, with only small exclusion areas around gardens and houses.

King said she became involved in the campaign after visiting gasfields in Queensland and trying to imagine such industrialisation in the NT.

Representatives from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) and the NT Department of Mines and Energy were in the audience and were grilled by locals angry there was not more effort to engage with the community and hear their concerns.

Litchfield Council mayor Allan McKay told the audience: “I don’t want fracking here, and I am your representative, so tell me what I can do to help.” This received loud applause.

Many in the audience signed up to Don’t Frack the Territory, pledged to write objections to the exploration applications, and wanted to continue the discussion about protecting their community from the shale oil and gas industry.

Don’t Frack the Territory wants to support local communities concerned about the shale oil and gas industry coming into the area, by organising public meetings, providing information and supporting grassroots community campaigns. For more information, email shalefree@ecnt.org.