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NT Government shoots the messenger over fracking

The Gunner Government’s decision to ditch Charles Darwin University scientists and instead award a contract to assess fracking risks in the Beetaloo Sub-basin to a Western Australian company should ring alarm bells.

It appears the government has made this decision not based on merit, but simply because the stygofauna research the CDU scientists previously conducted did not deliver the government the warm and fuzzy assessment of the fracking industry it desired.

The original CDU research highlighted numerous risks fracking posed to the interconnected groundwater systems that sustain communities, businesses, and the environment right across the interior of the Territory.

It also demonstrated the presence of corrosion inducing bacteria which are known to eat away at wells built by the gas industry, even when they are capped and abandoned.


The implications of these discoveries were huge. It means it is effectively impossible to mitigate the risk of contamination in groundwater if the fracking industry is allowed to continue expanding across the NT.

But it wasn’t the scientists who introduced the bacteria, or connected the groundwater. By stripping CDU of this latest contract, the Gunner Government is shooting the messenger. 

How can the average Territorian have any faith that the government is doing due diligence and protecting the NT from the worst impacts of fracking when it dumped Territorian scientists because their previous research was not pro-fracking enough?


The government has listened to the science when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, and for that it should be congratulated. But you don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to science, and it would be tremendous to see the Gunner Government apply the same level of scientific understanding and commitment to protecting Territorians from the harm of fracking as it has in response to Covid-19.

The Northern Territory Government and the Chief Minister have repeatedly committed to implementing the 135 recommendations handed down following the Pepper Inquiry into hydraulic fracturing. Conducting this research properly was one of those recommendations.

That now looks like a hollow promise. The government is ignoring the reality of fracking risks while pursuing the agenda of gas companies.

Perhaps the Western Australian company will deliver the same findings the CDU scientists would have if given the opportunity. If so, terrific, but that’s not the point here. 


The point is that the Gunner Government was presented with science that didn’t reaffirm its preconceived notions of the impact fracking would have on the Territory’s groundwater, and, instead of accepting these findings with maturity, it threw a tantrum, abandoned negotiations over a contract that were reportedly well advanced, and took its taxpayer-funded grant to a company from a different state.

You can just picture the spin doctors inside NT Parliament losing their minds when the media articles covering the stygofauna research didn’t say what they wanted them to say.

This research is too important to be influenced by government bias. The Pepper Inquiry was very clear that the groundwater that lies beneath the interior of the NT - where exploratory fracking wells are now being drilled - was too poorly studied to be able to make informed decisions.

That’s why it was so crucial that the Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) be completed, and for it to be completed to the highest scientific standard.

History is filled with examples of oil and gas companies influencing governments and research so it allows them to pillage our environment with scant regard for the consequences. It’s one of the reasons we’re in the middle of the climate crisis.

I sincerely hope that is not behind the government’s decision to strip CDU of this contract, but I have my doubts.

- Graeme Sawyer, Protect Country Alliance

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