Chief Minister incorrect to say Aboriginal people have veto rights over production.
Commenting on today’s claim by the NT government that all Pepper Fracking Inquiry recommendations have been implemented, Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin region are calling for a halt to plans for large scale fracking production until proper consultation has occurred with native title holders and the combined risks of what will be a major industrialisation of their country are better understood.
Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation represents members with native title interests across the Beetaloo Basin. Nurrdalinji has been involved in implementation of the Pepper report and SREBA studies.
In March 2023, Nurrdalinji released an FOId report, commissioned by the Morrison government but never released, which concluded that Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin are unlikely to make economic, social, cultural or other gains from fracking plans for the region, explaining that “conditions are currently not conducive to strong agreements being negotiated,” contradicting claims by the gas industry that jobs and economic benefits will flow to communities, see here.
Traditional owner and jungai (cultural lawman) for the area, Johnny Wilson, who lives in Lightning Ridge within 20 kms of Empire’s new fracking exploration wells said, "The Chief Minister is incorrect to claim today that Traditional Owners have the power to veto production on our country. Justice Pepper made it clear in her report that this is not true. There is no veto right at production stage under native title or land rights laws. When our old people said yes, many years ago, they had no idea of the many thousands of wells we are looking at now. See Pepper Fracking Report except below.
"The government has broken its promise to us that it would implement all recommendations of the Pepper Inquiry before fracking starts. In communities it’s clear that the government has not done a proper job of making sure Aboriginal people understand the huge impact fracking will have on our country and that our voice is heard.
“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.
“No one we speak with has ever understood, or now understands, the scale of what is coming. We’re not received the promised clear, accurate information about the impacts of fracking and interpreters still aren’t provided at meetings by gas companies.
“The Northern Land Council is meant to be our representative body but it does not consult with the right people. We have repeatedly asked for a regional meeting of Traditional Owners across the Beetaloo, but no one has helped make that happen.
“The jobs and economic benefits which we’ve been promised in the past from fracking are just not there. What we have is gas companies putting money in their pocket, while we get nothing.
“We worry about what will happen if the fracking companies drill into our country, take the water and poison it with their chemicals. Our lives depend on protecting country and water."
The Pepper Inquiry wrote a whole chapter on Aboriginal people. It found widespread opposition from Traditional Owners whose country will be impacted and made recommendations designed to meet expressed concerns.
When it comes to the right of veto of production, the Pepper Report notes (p276) "Traditional Aboriginal owners can only exercise their veto right at the exploration phase. If traditional Aboriginal owners say ‘yes’ to exploration they also say ‘yes’ to production, even if they know very little about the scope and scale of the project. Therefore, if traditional Aboriginal owners want development on their country, they are forced to make a decision at a time where there is limited information available about what the size of the final project will be".
.."As noted previously, land councils and traditional Aboriginal owners do not have the right to stop production once they have agreed to the grant of an exploration permit." (p 277)
Key recommendations of the Pepper Inquiry have not been implemented. Critically:
Aboriginal people are not being given adequate information or being treated more fairly by the fracking industry. Aboriginal people are not receiving the promised clear, accurate information about the scale and impacts of fracking on their country (Rec 11.6), Interpreters are not always present to explain complex scientific subject matter (Rec 11.5), Further, land councils and APPEA have refused to make public petroleum exploration agreements, in whole or in part (Rec 11.7), so there’s no proper scrutiny of whether the deals being negotiated by gas companies with impacted Aboriginal communities are adequate or just.
Water Allocation Plans have not been approved to allow the gas industry to take the water they need without damaging Territory water resources (Rec 7.7). Important water plans have not been signed off and the draft plan for a vast area that includes the Beetaloo Basin has been described as “regressive” by 18 academic water experts from across Australia.
The Federal government has not yet put in place a promised ‘water trigger’ for onshore fracking in federal environment legislation (Rec 7.3). This would see the water trigger under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 extended to shale gas. The water trigger would require a scientific assessment of the risks to the Territory’s water resources in light of the massive amounts of water needed by the fracking industry. The amendments are not due to be tabled until ‘late 2023’.
No solution to the requirement to offset emissions (Rec 9.8). This requires the NT government to obtain the Federal government's support to ensure there is no net increase to Australia's emissions from onshore gas development. The emissions from fracking the Territory will drive more dangerous floods, droughts and extreme temperatures in the NT and Australia.
Over 60 leading scientists and experts have called on the NTG to honour its commitment. There is considerable doubt that it’s even possible to offset these emissions, with concerns about the integrity of the offsets regime. A February 2023 report by a gas industry-funded research arm of the CSIRO, which claims emissions can be offset and is being relied upon by the NT government has been widely criticised by experts, labelling it as ‘wildly unrealistic’.
Fracking in the Beetaloo
The NT Government estimated in the 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.