Territory gas boom to bust the environment

May 18, 2012
Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson.

Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson released a report on May 14 into Australia’s gas reserves. The report signalled a huge expansion of gas mining in the NT and bad news for the environment.

Two new areas have been opened for gas exploration: shale gas exploration in the central NT, and conventional offshore gas exploration north-west of Darwin. Both of these present serious environmental problems.

The shale gas industry relies on capturing gas by pumping sand, water and chemicals into the ground — a process commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is widely used to extract shale gas in the US, but the practice has led to the contamination of water supplies. The popular documentary Gasland, released in 2010, showed that some residents near fracking sites could set their tapwater on fire.

Scientists have also linked fracking to earthquakes, because fracking can damage the underlying geological structures in ways that conventional mining does not.

The shale gas rush also threatens the low-level aquifers that provide the NT with much of its water needs. The aquifers are under threat not just from contamination, but because shale gas mining consumes a lot of water, and mining concerns are exempted from the water use restrictions that apply to farming, said the May 8 Sydney Morning Herald.

The new offshore conventional gas exploration plans also raise serious environmental concerns. Miners use seismic testing to locate prime areas for gas extraction, which environmentalists and commercial fishers say damages the ecosystem and drives fish away.

This is in addition to the threat posed by gas leaks into the ocean.

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesman Jess Abrahams told ABC Online on May 16: “We have seen impacts of seismic testing not just on marine mammals like whales but also on fish and other marine life. One oil spill in the Arafura Canyon would be devastating for commercial fishers and other marine biodiversity more generally.

"It is crazy to be offering areas for exploration directly adjacent to areas that are considered worthy of marine protection. There is enough oil and gas across northern Australia already. Some areas are too precious."

Prime minister Julia Gillard officially opened Darwin’s $34 billion Ichthys liquefied natural gas (LNG) project on May 18, calling it “truly a remarkable time in the Australian economy”.

Ferguson said on May 14: “Based on projects under construction, liquefied natural gas production capacity is projected to quadruple by 2017 to make Australia one of the world's largest exporters of LNG.” He also said Australia’s reserves would last for about 200 years.

The Ichthys project alone will increase the NT’s carbon emissions by 30%, says the Environment Centre NT.

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