12 June 2024

Environment management plan approved for exploratory gas drilling in Beetaloo Sub-Basin

| Andrew McLaughlin
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gas fracking rig

The EMP approval could see Tamboran establish four exploration and appraisal sites and 15 natural gas wells. Photo: Tamboran.

Natural gas drilling in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Sub-Basin is one step closer following the approval of Tamboran Resources’ environment management plan (EMP) to construct up to four exploration and appraisal sites, and undertake drilling and flow testing of up to 15 natural gas wells.

The Northern Territory Government welcomed the approval, saying it was backing industries that got the Territory working and grew its economy.

The government said the EMP had undergone “robust and stringent assessment by the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security”, with the “independent NT EPA determining the proposed activities did not meet the threshold for an environment impact assessment, in line with legislative and regulatory requirements”.

It said natural gas from the Beetaloo had the potential to provide jobs for thousands of Territorians, secure its energy supplies and deliver a boost to local businesses across the Territory.

Gas extracted from the Beetaloo Sub-Basin had the potential to support 13,000 jobs by 2040 and increase the Northern Territory’s economic activity by $17 billion.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler said the government was backing industries that created jobs, which was why it was supporting the onshore gas industry.

“This environmental approval is another critical step in getting natural gas flowing from the Beetaloo – and it ensures strong safeguards while providing confidence and certainty to industry,” she said.

“My commonsense plan will make sure that the benefits from Territory gas are spread right across the Territory, with residents and local businesses set to benefit for years to come.”

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Minister for Mining Mark Monaghan said Territorians would be the first to benefit from the untapped resources in the Beetaloo Basin.

“Additionally, the Northern Territory will be a key player in delivering natural gas to the nation and most likely the world when the Beetaloo comes online,” he said.

“Our government congratulates Tamboran on the conditional approval of their environment management plan and we look forward to seeing this project and industry as a whole progress.

“The Beetaloo Basin is significant for the Territory’s economy and will secure thousands of jobs for the next 15 years, and will be pivotal in the world’s transition to a cleaner, greener future.”

Territory Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water Security Kate Worden said all projects were required to pass stringent processes to ensure gas was extracted in an environmentally safe way, and that Tamboran’s EMP had met these criteria.

“Our government has put in place a number of measures to ensure this can be done safely,” she said.

“We have implemented a monitoring program that will be in place along with strong environmental regulations for gas in the Beetaloo Basin.”

But environmental groups have questioned why the plan didn’t proceed to a full environment impact assessment.

READ ALSO Top End secures funding for Beetaloo gas basin monitoring program following controversial Senate inquiry

Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Western Sydney University Ian Wright told the ABC that the absence of further independent scrutiny was “very concerning”, and that the environment management plan did not fully reflect the actual risks because it was a self-assessment by the company.

“I think this deserves the appropriate level of scrutiny for a new industry that is already causing heightened community concern and a large number of unresolved environmental impacts,” he said.

“There have been a number of incidents, and there is a growing gulf of concern that these have not been thoroughly addressed.

“It reminds me of when the Tasmanian government was building dams around 40 years ago and then the Commonwealth government stepped in, because [it] needed more scrutiny.”

The Northern Territory Greens slammed the decision and called on Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to call a halt to the exploration under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act’s ‘‘water trigger’’ assessment.

The water trigger was added to the EPBC Act in 2013 to assess and address impacts on water resources by large coalmining development and coal seam gas projects.

“Tamboran doesn’t have agreement from traditional owners, they don’t have agreement from landholders to build their pipeline, they don’t have approvals to build their gas-processing plant in the Barkly near the wells, and they don’t have the final investment decision,” a Greens statement said.

“These next few weeks are crucial. The Greens secured the water trigger in Federal Parliament. What is federal Labor going to do?

“We need Tanya Plibersek to use the water trigger now. This water belongs to all Territorians. We can’t let Tamboran wreck it for a profit. We desperately need some oversight in Parliament.”

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