Tamboran fracking pollution: Beetaloo Traditional Owners shocked at sacred waterway risk

May 23, 2023 9:45 AM

Commenting on ABC 7.30’s coverage last night of pollution incidents from Tamboran’s exploration well on Tanumbirini cattle station in the NT’s Beetaloo Basin, one of which has attracted a financial penalty while another remains under investigation, Traditional Owners have expressed their dismay at risks to their country and, in particular, the sacred Newcastle Creek which runs across the Beetaloo Basin and has sites protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act.

The three incidents are: drill water used to manage dust; a bund wall breaking spilling sediment and potentially toxic chemicals down towards a sacred waterway and what appears to be the pumping of toxic wastewater, containing heavy metals including lead, as well as barium, which is highly toxic to humans, stock, wildlife and the environment, into a cattle breeding paddock. The NT government is currently investigating. See backgrounder here.

Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation represents members with native title interests across the Beetaloo Basin. Tamboran’s subsidiary, Sweetpea Petroleum, itself notes in its Fracking Environmental Management Plan for EP 136 on Tanumbirini Station that Newcastle Creek has ‘known cultural sensitivities’.

Djingili Elder and cultural advisor to Nurrdalinji, Janet Sandy Gregory, said, “This shows us once again why we do not want fracking which will poison our water, our animals and upset the songlines that run across our country.”

“When I heard that Tamboran has polluted I felt my spirit and heart were breaking. I worry about the country and the future and what it’s going to hold for my family and my people.

“We want the government to take action against Tamboran. We have asked the Territory sacred sites authority to look into this because we fear for our country.”

Chair of Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, Johnny Wilson, and Jungai (cultural lawman) for the area, responded to the news, said, “This reflects what Traditional Owners have long feared, that fracking will damage our water, country and songlines which mean absolutely everything to us and were passed down for us to care for.

“This is my grandfather's country which I have a responsibility to look after. It tears at my heart to imagine how fracking by Tamboran might be damaging what I have been asked to protect”.

Jingili Senior Traditional Owner Mark Raymond said, “These incidents at Tanumbirini Station make me sad. I have two totems up that way. I don't want any fracking anywhere. I don't want that to be my legacy for my grandchildren, I want them to know the country and protect it”.

Background paper on Beetaloo Basin and Fracking here.
Quality photos for download here. Flaring Santos gas well behind on Tanumbirini, with Nurrdalinji Directors and members here. Nurrdalinji Directors, including spokespeople quoted, here.
Drone footage of Santos flaring exploratory well (NOT Tamboran well pad in question) on Tanumbirini station here.

Background and cultural significance of Newcastle Creek

Nurrdalinji has been working with Rallen Australia, which runs Tanumbirini Station, in a bid to protect their country for future generations. They share concerns about fracking risks to land, water and sacred sites.

Newcastle Creek is a significant songline which runs across Tanumbirini, a 5,000 square km cattle station located near Daly Waters. Tamboran has an exploration permit (EP 136) for exploratory fracking that covers parts of Tanumbirini Station.

In June 2022 Tamboran locked the gate on the Chair of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, Johnny Wilson, who was seeking to inspect the sacred site area of Newcastle Creek, areas of which are protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act.

Testimony put by local Aboriginal groups to Justice Pepper’s Fracking Inquiry, contained in a chapter of its final report, Aboriginal People and their Culture, explains that:

“According to Aboriginal tradition, the aquifers underlying country which may give rise to springs and other naturally occurring water sources can be associated with the travels of ancestral beings and link neighbouring Aboriginal groups, connecting people across the landscape. In the area surrounding the Beetaloo Sub-basin, for example, these connections find expression in the kujika song cycles.

Kujika are central to the major ceremonies linking Aboriginal nations and language groups across the region. These songs link people with sites in the landscape and require that a broader group of Traditional Owners and custodians be consulted, not just the group associated with the land directly above the areas proposed for any shale gas wells.

The kujika reinforce the concept of mangalalgal, or “the way of the dreaming”, which is an explicit imperative to honour and maintain cultural traditions. Traditional Owners have submitted that they are connected with neighbouring Aboriginal groups by “underground culture.”

Fracking in the Beetaloo

The NT Government estimated in the NT Pepper Inquiry Final Report (p 98) that over 6,000 wells could be drilled in the Beetaloo if the fracking industry progresses.
First Nations communities raised serious concerns with the Inquiry about the threat of fracking in the Beetaloo to country, cultural values and landscapes, and water sources, and the lack of free, prior and informed consent processes.

Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation

The Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation includes native title holders from the Amungee Mungee, Beetaloo, Hayfield, Kalala, Newcastle Waters - Murranji, Nutwood Downs, Shenandoah, Tandyidgee, Tanumbirini, Daly Waters Township, Ucharonidge native title determinations.

The Beetaloo sub-basin is located around 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin. It embraces Aboriginal land, pastoral leases (which co-exist with Native Title rights and interests), horticultural enterprises, cattle stations and remote Aboriginal communities. A number of companies are currently undertaking fracked gas drilling in the region, with most of the NT covered by exploration permits.