‘Unrelenting opposition to fracking’ behind Origin’s Beetaloo pull-out

September 20, 2022
First Nations campaigners opposing Origin Energy's plans for the Beetaloo Basin.
First Nations campaigners protesting Origin Energy’s plans for the Beetaloo Basin, in Sydney, in 2019. Photo: Pip Hinman

First Nations and climate campaigners say oil and gas giant Origin Energy’s decision to pull out of exploring and fracking in three important natural jewels is testament to the effectiveness of a grassroots campaign led by Traditional Owners, who refused to accept the company’s attempts to destroy land and water.

Origin said on September 19 it would divest its near 80% stake in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory, Queensland’s Lake Eyre Basin and Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

CEO Frank Calabria claims to want to free up investment for “cleaner energy and customer solutions”, but says gas will “continue to have an important role in our business, particularly through our interest in Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG)”.

Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said it was not a surprise, given the NT community’s “unrelenting opposition to fracking”.

“Territorians have never supported fracking and Origin’s decision to sell off its tenements shows that finally, after many years of us trying to tell them this, they’ve finally listened.”

However, the fight continues as Origin has sold to Tamboran, which refused to attend the Senate inquiry into fracking in the NT.

“The fact [Origin is] making huge losses in the Beetaloo is a testament to the difficulties of developing this basin,” Sawyer said. “It is an economic disaster as well as an environmental one.”

Origin’s decision shows there is no money to be made in fracking the Territory, Sawyer said, adding its decision was not about being “environmentally or socially friendly”.

“We hope Tamboran, as well as other companies active in the Territory, soon come to the same conclusion and pack their bags.”

The Scott Morrison Coalition government designated the Beetaloo Basin as one of five sites it wanted “fast-tracked” as part of its pandemic “gas-fired recovery” plan. It offered up to $226 million in subsidies for the project.

Lock the Gate national coordinator Ellen Roberts said Origin’s decision reflected a broader shift underway as fossil fuel companies face pressure from “investors and energy customers [who] increasingly demand companies align with the Paris Agreement”.

She said Origin’s abandonment of exploration tenements in the Lake Eyre Basin in Queensland and in WA’s Kimberley region was “encouraging”. However it still intends to proceed with its APLNG project, which includes plans to drill 7700 new coal seam gas wells north of Roma and in Queensland’s Central Highlands, including on the border of the world-renowned Carnarvon National Park. 

“If Origin was serious about its climate targets and its environmental responsibilities, it would abandon these projects too.”

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