The Northern Territory will permit fracking in the Beetaloo Basin, unlocking one of the world’s largest untapped gas reserves and drawing immediate condemnation from environmental groups and Indigenous landowners who vow to oppose any development.
The approval by NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles is a boost to Australia’s $91 billion LNG export industry and the security of domestic gas supplies, but it threatens to inflame tensions with Indigenous groups who insist the land is culturally sensitive and must be preserved.
The NT government had halted gas development in the Beetaloo despite lifting a moratorium five years ago, insisting that the industry would first need to implement all 135 recommendations from a 2018 inquiry.
Ms Fyles on Wednesday said these had been met, and gas developers – the largest of which is Santos – would be allowed to apply for development licences.
“Now is the time for the Northern Territory to provide the energy that the world needs to transition to renewable energies,” she said.
The industry will be compelled to follow what the territory described as one of the most robust frameworks in Australia, and Ms Fyles said local Indigenous groups would have veto power over developments.
‘No one understands’
The gas industry in the Beetaloo faces huge hurdles.
“Fracking companies are still not listening to the wishes of traditional owners who do not want thousands of flaring wells that will destroy our country,” said Johnny Wilson, a traditional owner who lives in the Beetaloo Basin, close to some proposed exploration wells.