Dr Tanya Martinich - 29 May 2014

As a medical doctor and resident of katherine I have grave concerns regarding the safety of fracking in the northern territory both to human health and the environment. I believe that the current level of assessment, monitoring and regulation of the hydraulic fracturing industry is inadequate to protect the health of current and future generations of territorians. There is the potential for harm to public health to be affected both directly and indirectly. This includes direct exposure via accidental spills and leaks, use of untreated wast water for irrigation of crops and watering livestock , damage to soils, water and aquifers and air born pollution. In the absence of sufficient well designed epidemiological studies, information is accumulating about the detrimental impacts on environmental determinants of health particularly clean air and water.

The risks are more than theoretical. The resent contamination incident in the Piliga australia was due to leaking storage pond which allowed the leaked salty csg produced water to mobilise heavy metals and uranium form the existing soils contaminating an aquifer. In america the EPA has documented detection of chemicals 'consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluid in an aquifer supplying a Wyoming gas field community.

Numerous australian doctors have been raising similar concerns regarding the hydraulic fracturing industry.

I wish to submit the following specific concerns about hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory.

I ask the Inquiry to respond to the following questions:

  1. The EPA has stated that there are too many wells to assess individually and that the NT Government does not have the resources to ensure compliance. Will companies be required to undertake environmental impact assessment of each well given the numerous different ecosystems occurring in the NT
  2. How can the community have confidence in the government to be able to make informed decisions based on the science and not just the hard sell from mining companies?
  3. Have any independent studies been undertaken to properly assess the impacts of fracking in a tropical monsoonal environment?
  4. How will the potential health, social and cultural impacts of fracking be assessed? Who will continue to monitor and assess the ongoing long term consequence to health over at least the next 50 years.
  5. Who pays for environment clean up if fracking allows gas to leak into the groundwater and more methane to be released into to our atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions?
  6. Why do mining companies have the right to come on to any pastoral lease, private freehold or native title land and frack for gas without free, prior and informed consent by the landholder?
  7. Where landholders do have a right to veto, or to compensation, how is their decision process informed?
  8. What will happen to the millions of litres of contaminated waste water?
  9. Who benefits financially from fracking?
  10. How will mining companies be subsidized or incentivized to frack using taxpayer dollars?
  11. How can people living in remote communities contribute to this Inquiry?
  12. How will commercial interests be represented in this Inquiry?
  13. Will any forums be held to discuss issues raised by the Inquiry?
  14. Will the Inquiry acknowledge that both mining companies and governments have a vested interest in allowing fracking to go ahead despite the risks it presents, and the bias that this presents?
  15. How will the results of this Inquiry be reported and enacted?
  16. Who will ensure mining companies comply with any guidelines formed as a result of this Inquiry?
  17. If I have concerns about fracking activities taking place on my property, who can I contact?
  18. If the aquifers are contaminated by fracking does technology exist to decontaminate them. If so what is this technology and whose responsibility is it to bear the cost.
  19. If the aquifers are contaminated how will clean water be supplied to the affected communities. Who responsibility is it to bear the cost of this. If it is the mining company who continues to pay once this company no longer exists or is no longer mining in australia.
  20. Who will be responsible for the cost of health care if individuals health is adversely affected by contamination to aquifers or air pollution from fracking.
  21. How will an already overburdened public and private health care system in katherine deal with an increased work load if population health is affected.

I call on you to make recommendations for:

  1. Ensuring that any fracking development takes place according to the Precautionary Principle for Ecologically Sustainable Development and that this is incorporated into the relevant legislation.
  2. Funding an independent scientific study which properly assesses all impacts (environmental, health, social and cultural) caused by fracking both interstate and overseas to assess the risk to the Territory.
  3. Independent assessment of the climate impact of fracking, including fugitive emissions.
  4. A moratorium on all fracking until all of these risks have been properly assessed by independent scientists.
  5. Assessing and establishing permanent ‘no go’ zones for sensitive areas as reserved blocks under the Petroleum Act (eg. Drinking water catchments, cultural or environmentally significant areas such as sacred sites or protected areas, groundwater recharging zones, food croplands)
  6. Assessing and establishing permanent exclusion zones around all territory towns and there suppling aquifers.
  7. Ensuring the onus of proof to demonstrate that fracking is safe for the Territory’s environment and communities is borne by the mining companies rather than landowners, including the collection of baseline data prior to any impact.
  8. Ensuring that all base line and ongoing monitoring studies are independent, scientific, peer reviewed and made available to the general public
  9. An open, transparent process for information to be provided and distributed throughout communities.
  10. Mining companies must obtain free, prior and informed consent from all landholders as per best practice management for all stages of mining including exploration and then ongoing drilling and development
  11. Mining companies undertaking fracking must be required by law to respond to the criteria for environmental impact assessment as per any other significant development.
  12. Water use by mining companies must come under the Water Act so that companies taking water for fracking are required to apply for a water extraction licence.
  13. Proper resourcing of monitoring and compliance bodies such as the EPA and Department of Mines and Energy.
  14. Provisions to ensure that the mining company bears the financial and moral responsibility for any negative impacts caused by fracking both now and into the long term future.
  15. The NT Government ceases the use of taxpayer dollars to provide subsidies and incentives to mining companies for the purpose of exploration, extraction and rehabilitation.