Protect Country Alliance is flabbergasted NT Environment Minister Eva Lawler has taken the unprecedented step of “partially” approving Empire Energy’s Environment Management Plan for its controversial seven well frack project near Borroloola.
Despite having been approved on September 3, the partial EMP approval was only quietly uploaded to the department’s website late last week.
The approval also comes hot on the heels of increasing speculation the Gunner Government will backflip on its promise to fully offset all greenhouse gas emissions from fracking in the Beetaloo.
The section of the EMP that has been approved primarily deals with construction of roads and well pads and land clearing, and contains conditions related to the population of endangered Gouldian Finches in the area.
But Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said the approval ignored the likely presence of many other endangered species, such as the nationally listed endangered Gulf Snapping Turtle.
“The approval completely ignores a range of new information from the Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) Preliminary research showing endangered species and completely new species to science in the area.
“The entire purpose of the SREBA was to research what species may be present in this little explored part of the Territory - this hasn’t happened - so there’s no telling what undiscovered and endangered animals may disappear thanks to this fracking project before we even know they're present.
“The Gunner Government is ignoring science just to push through an unwanted fracking project that puts groundwater, communities, and the environment at risk."
Mr Sawyer, who recently captured footage of Gouldian Finches for a David Attenborough documentary, said he had no confidence the conditions would protect the finch’s population.
“The Gouldian really is one of the most iconic bird species of the Top End, and with the stroke of a pen, Minister Lawler has put this fragile finch in further danger,” he said.
“The population of this finch is only just starting to recover in this area - a brand new fracking project that will bulldoze native vegetation for wellpads, pipelines, and new roads is going to send this population backwards.
“The EMP approvals focus on protecting breeding locations of the finch, but doesn’t give enough consideration to how the general clearing of habitat for roads, wellpads, and other infrastructure will place the finch under further pressure.”
Mr Sawyer said the partial approval of the EMP was effectively a full approval by stealth.
“Lawler has approved well pads, but not the wells. This is a sneaky way of letting fracking companies push ahead before fully assessing the impacts and risks of drilling and fracking several gas wells.
“Last week Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt said the $21 million donation of public money to Empire would go ahead despite an ongoing legal challenge against the project.
“Then, lo and behold, we find out the NT Environment Minister has approved the construction of well pads.
“Let’s be clear - the NT Gunner Government and Morrison Federal Government are hand in hand working to steam roll this dodgy and polluting project through as quickly as possible.
“If they’re ultimately successful, it’s our underground water, communities, and iconic native species like the Gouldian and the Gulf Snapping Turtle that will pay the price.
“It is essential that the SREBA research is completed and properly considered before any further approvals are given.”