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Northern Territory Fracking

Whilst large areas of the Northern Territory are covered in gas licences, the ‘Beetaloo sub-basin’ in the Roper-Gulf region is currently the main focus of the gas industry's push for unconventional (shale) gas production in the Territory.

Over the past decade numerous gas fracking companies have been attempting to gain approvals to explore and develop the large onshore shale gas reserves believed to exist in the Roper-Gulf Region. Learn more and get involved with the Frack Free NT campaign here...

What's at Risk?

The Beetaloo sub-basin includes the recharge area of the iconic Mataranka Springs, important freshwater aquatic ecosystems (including habitat for the nationally endangered Gulf Snapping Turtle), and extensive tropical savanna woodlands that are likely habitat for the nationally endangered Gouldian Finch.

Much of the surface water catchment across this region flows into Newcastle Creek and then Jurrkulu-Ijibarda (‘Lake Woods’). Lake Woods meets five criteria for Ramsar listing as an internationally significant wetland, including being an important aggregation site for over 20,000 waterbirds, including the Plumed Whistling Duck, Oriental Pranticole and Green Pygmy Goose.

Fracking for shale gas is an extremely water-intensive practice that also uses a range of known or potentially dangerous and toxic chemicals. Major concerns are held for the rivers, wetlands and groundwater aquifers of the Roper-Gulf region if gas fracking moves into full production.

Water planning and allocation in the Northern Territory is a shambles, as highlighted by a 2022 open letter to the NT Chief Minister from 18 leading national water planning, hydrology and ecology experts. The NT public can have no confidence, based on current NT government laws and processes, that the vital groundwater and surface waters assets of the NT, including pristine rivers and wetlands, will be protected if fracking proceeds.

Greenhouse gas emissions

The sheer quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced if the Beetaloo Basin was opened up for full scale production is enormous, beyond the capacity of emissions reduction methods such as offsets and Carbon Capture and Storage to balance out – even if they were in place and had integrity.

Estimated GHG emissions under three production scenarios. From: Reputex (2021).




The companies

Following the 2022 departure of Origin Energy, after a concerted Traditional Owner-led community and investor campaign, the main companies currently operating in the Beetaloo are Tamboran Resources, Empire Energy, Santos and Falcon Oil and Gas.

Tamboran, a company with major US financial backing, is pushing to gain approval for initial gas production in the Beetaloo commencing as soon as 2023/24, utilising giant fracking rigs (‘Super-spec Flexirigs’) imported from the US.

Communities at risk

Land use in the Roper-Gulf Region comprises Aboriginal land, pastoral leases (which co-exist with Native Title rights and interests), horticultural enterprises, cattle stations and remote Aboriginal communities.

This area takes in the traditional lands of the Jawoyn, Alawa, Jingili, Walmanpa, Warumungu, Ngandji and Binbinga nations, among others. Those traditional lands that are directly downstream from planned fracking activities include Mudburra, Garrwa, Yanyuwa and Gurdanji.

Affected communities in the northern area of the Beetaloo Sub Basin include Katherine, Barunga, Beswick, Mataranka, Jilkminggan, Minyerri and Ngukurr. The central area includes communities in Larrimah, Daly Waters, Dunmarra, Newcastle Waters, Marlinja and Elliott. Communities affected in the east include Borroloola and Robinson River as well as Tennant Creek in the South.


Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)

Many First Nations people across the Beetaloo region, such as those represented by the Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, have stated that there has been no genuine FPIC process for affected communities across the basin. While some Traditional Owners have supported gas exploration on their land, many other affected groups oppose fracking but have had no opportunity to exercise their FPIC rights. When Traditional Owners take their objections before parliamentary inquiries and company AGMs, gas companies and politicians simply rely on the Traditional Owner’s lack of legally-enforceable FPIC rights to ignore them.

Traditional Owners travelled from the NT to Federal Parliament in 2023 to talk to politicians about their concerns