Catherine Orme - 31 May 2014

Dear Dr Hawke,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit the following for your consideration during your Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory.  I have faith that the decisions reached by the Northern Territory Government during this enquiry will be in the best interests of Northern Territory residents, and indeed all global citizens and will be made independent of the promise of political or financial gain to any party involved in the decision making process.

As a long term resident of the Northern Territory I admit to having a vested interest in maintaining the unique, diverse and still somewhat intact environmental integrity of our magnificent part of the world, but as a resident of this, our one and only life source, planet earth - my interest is for future generations and the legacy, or the mess, the we leave behind.

While my knowledge of the technical and operational aspects of Hydraulic Fracturing is limited to information available online and through sources such as the NT Government, Environment Centre NT and public film and literature, I know that I am not alone in stating that the hazards of any decision to approve extraction of shale gas, oil and coal seam gas across basin areas of the Northern Territory far outweigh any long or short term economic or other benefits that would be gained.

Globally, the economic reality of hydraulic fracking is starting to take shape with global examples of glutted markets, resulting in a drastic reduction in market prices to below production costs forcing wells into closure - a decommissioning process that, in the face of financial hardship is often poorly managed and results in abandonment and severe environmental risk, the costs of which are covered by taxpayer dollars.

The Northern Territory already has a reputation for poorly managed mining practices with examples from even the largest and seemingly economically viable mines.  As the Government has stated that it does not have the resources to ensure compliance from individual operators, the public can have little faith that any regulations with regards to operation or decommission of a shale or coal seam well will be adhered to.  The impact to surface water, aquifers and the vital ecosystem services will be felt throughout the NT.  

While the use of natural gas is being encouraged as an alternative to traditional fuel sources under the guise of being a ‘cleaner’ energy source than that of coal, oil or tar sands it is far from the solution that we need to work towards a future that will benefit coming generations.

The extraction industry as a whole is built to put money into the pockets of a few while fuelling the unrealistic and unnecessary over-consumption of these finite resources by the masses.  The long term goal of such industries seems only to be financial gain; a gain which can hardly be understood to be of long term benefit to climate, food or water security.

Instead of fostering the growth of an industry dependent on non-renewable and environmentally degrading resources and allowing the destruction of vital ecosystem services, the Northern Territory Government must invest greater time and resources in developing the NT’s renewable energy sector as well as educating the wider community on the need to adjust to safer, cleaner and long-term sustainable lifestyles.

We are already placing unrealistic expectations on the systems that sustain us, this at a global level. Continuing to push the limits of our planets natural systems is already resulting in damage at a local, national and global level.

The reality of a sustainable future building on the existing renewable energy technology is proven, it’s effective and it is exciting! But it is slipping away while we debate the risks of unsustainable practices such as Hydraulic Fracturing. The Northern Territory is well placed to join the global push for the kind of sustainable future that we need and that we can be proud to hand down to our future generations.

I ask that the Northern Territory Government:

  1. Maintain a position which is un-compromised and independent of lobbying by the Oil and Gas industry – accepting NO funding or gifting from companies with vested interests in the outcomes of legislative rulings and government decisions.
  2. Call a moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory.
  3. Ensure that any currently operational wells are decommissioned and areas rehabilitated in line with the strictest international standards.
  4. Decrease the Territory economies dependence on oil and gas industry investment to ensure long term economic and environmental health.
  5. Invest time and resources into the development of a sustainable future for the Northern Territory incorporating current renewable energy technology and setting strict renewable energy targets.
  6. Encourage, empower, educate and enable Territorians to lead sustainable lifestyles and to live within the limits of our natural systems.
  7. Increase the capacity of the EPA to enforce Environmental Protection legislation and hand down penalties for breaches of the Act.
  8. Cease using taxpayer dollars to provide subsidies and incentives to mining companies for the purpose of exploration and extraction.

Thank you for your time, I sign off, remaining confident that this inquiry will yield positive results for the long term benefit of Territorians and our unique and important natural environment and that our future needs will not be sold off for the profit of a select few.

Yours in sincerity,

Catherine Orme