Beetaloo Basin fracking breaches: Traditional Owners comment

June 05, 2024 8:30 AM

Call on NT govt to prosecute and Minister Plibersek to scrutinise Empire’s plans using the ‘water trigger’

WHAT: Empire’s subsidiary, Imperial Oil and Gas, has reported significant compliance breaches over four years from drilling and testing four wells in the Beetaloo Basin. (ABC AM today). The incidents include a leak in a wastewater storage tank, clearing and construction of well pads and gravel pits in unauthorised locations, land clearing including in Gouldian finch habitat, over-extraction of groundwater and problems managing wastewater during big rains. Empire also failed to report a significant archeological find and artefacts were subsequently moved. Empire is currently seeking approval for an additional 10 wells as part of its “Carpentaria Pilot Project”. Referenced summary of incidents available here.

WHO: Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation represents native title holders from the Beetaloo Basin  who wish to protect country. It made a submission opposing Empire’s latest Environmental Management Plan, noting concerns about inadequate consultation and risks to country and water, particularly Relief Creek which lies close to proposed fracking wells and connects to a significant sacred site. Impacted Traditional Owners have written to the NT Heritage Department asking them to investigate the removal of tools from the area and ensure further independent archaeological surveys are conducted.

Nurrdalinji has also written to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, asking her to use the expanded water trigger provisions to scrutinse water impacts of Empire and Tamobran’s fracking operations.

Director of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, Yanyuwa and Garawa woman and jungai (cultural protector) for this country, Joni Wilson, who lives with her young family between Borroloola and a tiny outstation at Lightning Ridge, in the heart of the Beetaloo Basin, said, 

“The gas companies said that none of these problems would happen, but it's happening. So how are they going to fix this up?  Empire needs to stay with its word that there’ll be no problems and not lie to us.

“The government should give a big apology to everyone who belongs to that country because even though the piece of land may be small to them, it has a story and a songline that crosses that bit of land. Once broken, it's just something that the government can't bring back.

“The government should have an emergency plan in place for floods and cyclones which can lead to spills and water poisoning, considering we’re living in the Northern Territory with all its different kinds of weather.

“Our waterways and creeks are all connected, and even underneath. We don’t want any of that poisoned. We have a dreaming site there for mermaid dreaming. She travels through there, to Relief Creek, and it's very sacred for ceremony. If that's destroyed, then our story is destroyed.

“There were some cultural artefacts on my land that were moved and you just can't take that back. It’s like a puzzle. You pick up and move the artefacts and that's it - you ruined that story then. It's heartbreaking. You can't come back from that.

“We want the next generation to be able to live on country, on good, clear, healthy land, that has not been destroyed.”

Nurrdalinji member Cain O’Keefe , speaking from the Karranjini group, who has been taken on trips by Empire to survey land for cultural significance said,

“Seeing these tools we found was so emotional. It took them that long to make a stone axe from hand. It’s disappointing and disgraceful that the tools were moved, without authority.

“We want to protect country, not have it drilled. If Empire gets agreement to do the drilling we won't have access to that country anymore. It's going to be owned by Empire Energy. Even traditional owners won’t be allowed to go past the gate.

“We have a lot of rain this year, and most of the holding dams got full and overflowed. I asked to go out after Cyclone Megan but we wasn't allowed because there was something there that they didn't want us to see.

“We want Empire to stop work immediately. You can't keep going ahead when there's been a contaminated spill. I’ve seen and smelt the contamination. Maybe next wet season, it's going to get worse.”

Director of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, Asman Rory , Wuyaliya man, also Nimirinki and Jungai (cultural lawman) for his country, who has been taken on trips by Empire to survey land for cultural significance , said,

“I've seen all the sites where they’re going to put those new wells and it’s not a good spot because that’s all cultural area.

“How is it that these breaches have already happened and we don't know nothing about it? That’s really concerning for us custodians. All we want is transparency, but that hasn't been there since this project started.

“The government should take this seriously, because it is very concerning. We are going to make them be accountable for the breaches.”

Photos: Spokespeople and photos of various artefacts found in Empire’s EP 187 exploration area hereFootage of Empire’s EP 187 area flooded after Cyclone Megan, April 2024 available on request.


The archaeology survey report, commissioned by Empire, is available here. The NT Heritage Branch in its submission to the NT EPA on Empire’s new plans has characterised the report as 'not fit for purpose' and requested a revised report, also noting Empire's "main report does not mention which recommendations the proponent will be following in relation to mitigation and the unexpected finds protocol for the site".