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Low diversity of tiny cave prawns proves fracking too risky in NT

A lack of diversity among tiny, newly discovered crustaceans living in underground aquifers from Mataranka to Elliott demonstrates the interconnectivity of the region’s groundwater and therefore the high risk fracking poses to businesses, communities, and iconic places like the Mataranka Springs, according to a new report.

The CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) today released its initial report on water sampling as a part of its Strategic Regional and Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA), one of the key recommendations of the Pepper Inquiry into hydraulic fracturing. 

“The report confirms the worst fears of Territorians about risks to groundwater if fracking goes ahead as planned,” said Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer.

Among the report’s findings was that low genetic divergence of several species of the aquatic animals, known as stygofauna, across a distance of around 260km meant there was a high level of interconnectedness between aquifers. In fact, scientists found all Parisia unguis were less than 2.2 percent diverse across the entire sampling range.

Due to the high degree of subterranean aquatic connectivity, the report shows there is a significant risk of widespread contamination in the event of a fracking pollution event.

The report states: “Risk of contamination by pollutants associated with shale gas and other industries in the region must be mitigated sufficiently to prevent contaminants from entering this subterranean aquifer of high connectivity.”

As well, the scientists found denitrifying bacteria and sulfate-reducing bacterial populations were present in many wells. 

Mr Sawyer said these types of bacteria were known to corrode wells left by the gas industry, even when they were capped and abandoned, meaning it was effectively impossible to mitigate the risk of contamination if the fracking industry was allowed to continue expanding across the NT.

“There is no known way for fracking companies to drill, frack, and seal gas wells that totally eliminates the risk of contamination,” Mr Sawyer said. 

“This report serves as a grave warning to the Gunner Government, which must now put in place a moratorium on fracking in this interconnected groundwater region, at least until these serious contamination risks are totally removed.

“Fracking companies are already pumping hundreds of thousands of litres of chemicals such as biocides, that are extremely toxic to aquatic organisms with long lasting effects, into the ground in the Beetaloo.

“This report shows a spill or a leak at a fracking well could have devastating consequences for the drinking water of a community, bore water of a farm, or hot spring site.

“Fracking wells will leak at some point in the future. A 50mm concrete barrier, which is all that’s put in place at the moment, will not protect our water systems.

“The problem is not just that there is a high level of interconnectedness of the groundwater, but also that these stygofauna are incredibly vital for cleaning the water accessed by communities and businesses across the NT. Groundwater is the basis of life and economic prosperity in these regions.

“If stygofauna are destroyed due to a fracking spill, or methane leaks, the quality of water will also suffer.”

Mr Sawyer said the findings of the report had serious and wide reaching implications for all businesses and communities across the NT. 

“This significantly raises the risk profile fracking presents for the cattle industry, horticulture, and mango industry, as well as tourism and recreational fishing,” he said.

“The Gunner Government has rolled out the red carpet for the fracking industry before adequate science has been completed.

“The Pepper Inquiry never gave the green light to fracking. It said reports like this groundwater study needed to be completed before final decisions could be made.

“We are calling for an immediate reinstatement of the fracking moratorium in light of these latest findings until the required science is complete.”

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  • Lorraine Rogers
    commented 2021-02-20 22:47:31 +1100
    It is time to make an effective law to convict and punish those who destroy and pollute any part of the environment and habitat.
  • Katrina Steel
    commented 2021-02-18 14:38:27 +1100
    Politicians should be made responsible for their actions – we should be able to sue through class action. That would put an end to the reckless irresponsible political moves. To think they get paid a packet to destroy the joint
  • Charmaine Smith
    commented 2021-02-16 20:39:33 +1100