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Pristine rivers at risk as Origin targets more than 200,000 hectares of Channel Country floodplains for fracking

Fracking company Origin Energy has applied for petroleum licenses over large swathes of floodplains in Queensland’s environmentally sensitive Channel Country, in a blatant attempt to preempt a decision on the future of the floodplains by the Palaszczuk Government.

A number of the licences were previously held as “Authority to Prospect” (ATPs) by self-described “small cap listed” fracking company Blue Energy.

But in its July 2020 quarterly report, Blue Energy stated it had entered into a deal with “an Australian energy company” to offload the licenses, and blamed “legislative uncertainty” for its inability to prospect. 

The Queensland Palaszczuk Government is currently negotiating with Traditional Owners, landowners, and other stakeholders on how the sensitive floodplains of the Channel Country should be managed, after promising to protect them in the lead-up to the last election, and the election before that. 

However, that hasn’t stopped Origin making a bid for giant leases across the floodplain in a preemptive strike prior to final decisions being made. Other fracking companies, like Santos, already hold considerable exploration tenements on the floodplains.

The same month as Blue’s announcement, Origin Energy lodged an application for PLs over 225,000 hectares of highly sensitive Channel Country floodplains, classed as “Strategic Environmental Areas” under Queensland’s Regional Planning and Interests Act.

The Origin PLs cover Blue Energy’s ATPs, and border the spectacular and nationally important Lake Yamma Yamma

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Carmel Flint said it was unusual for a company to apply for PLs, which allow fracking and gas production, when no significant exploratory work had been completed while the land was covered by an ATP.

“This bid by Origin Energy seems deliberately designed to preempt previous Palaszczuk Government commitments, which were renewed last year before the election, to protect the pristine rivers of the Channel Country,” she said.

“As well, it demonstrates the failure of Queensland planning laws to proactively protect what has been classed as some of the most important environmental areas in the state, from destructive and polluting unconventional gasfields.

“We know the government’s top scientists advised fracking should not occur on these floodplains, due to the risk it poses to the sensitive and unique environment of the region. It is absolutely crucial that the Queensland Government listens to that science and ensures these floodplains are protected.

“In light of all this, Lock the Gate Alliance is calling for an immediate moratorium on all unconventional gas exploration and production on the sensitive floodplains of the Channel Country.

“Origin Energy also likes to describe itself as producing ‘good energy’, yet the company now has interests in gas fracking tenements across Queensland, the NT, and the Kimberley. Clearly, there is nothing good about Origin’s dirty and polluting methods."

Channel Country beef producer Angus Emmott said fracking the floodplains would threaten operations like his as well as the unique environment of Far Western Queensland.

“The future of the iconic channel country is in tourism and clean green and organic food production," he said.

“It must not be compromised by a short term push to make money out of fossil fuels.”

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