Miranda O'Keefe - 30 May 2014

Dear Dr Hawke,

I am firmly opposed to the current Governments plan to facilitate the shale and tight gas industry in the Northern Territory.  I particularly concerned at the lack of consultation with the community, and the highly apparent lack of understanding the current government has of hydraulic fracturing and the risks it poses to our most precious resource.

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

  1. Hydraulic fracking is a extremely water intensive practice. The Australian gas industry provides a figure of 11 million litres per shale or tight gas frack.  Wells are often fractured multiple times and in some cases a single well maybe refracted up to 10 times, significantly increasing water use exponentially. This will have a major impact on our local resources. I am particular concerned that the water use is not controlled by the Water Act. Why should mining companies be exempt from applying for a water license?
  2. Large volumes of chemical laden waste water are produced from shale and tight gas mining. How will mining companies protect contaminants from reentering water systems? how will they treat and dispose of the waste water?
  3. A typical 15 million litre fracturing operation uses from 80 to 330 tons of chemicals per fracking operation of which up to 70 percent cannot be recovered. Chemicals used include carcinogens, neurotoxins, irritants/sensitives, reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors. Will there be independent assessment of the safety of these chemicals and the long term effects on human health, livestock and the environment?
  4. Studies show Hydraclic fracking causes migration of gas, methane and other naturally occurring toxic substances into groundwater or aquifers through fracturing of tight and shale gas induced pathways. Will independent research be conducted into these risks?

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. 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.
  7. An open, transparent process for information to be provided and distributed throughout communities.
  8. Mining companies must obtain free, prior and informed consent from all landholders as per best practice management.
  9. Mining companies undertaking fracking must be required by law to respond to the criteria for environmental impact assessment as per any other significant development.
  10. 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.
  11. Proper resourcing of monitoring and compliance bodies such as the EPA and Department of Mines and Energy.
  12. Provisions to ensure that the mining company bears the financial and moral responsibility for any negative impacts caused by fracking.
  13. 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.

I also call on you to make recommendation to amend the laws of the NT in response to the following concerns:

1. We don’t know enough about the impact of fracking on our environment or human health, therefore the law must:

  • reflect the precautionary principle in environmental assessment and regulatory control
  • require drilling competency standards to protect safety, health and resource management
  • require collection and publication of base line data on environmental impact

2. The current laws do not allow for community consultation, therefore the law must:

  • require adequate public notice of proposed exploration – one advertisement in a newspaper is not adequate
  • allow a land owner or affected person the right to object and the right to refuse
  • require publication of reasons for decisions and all associated documentation considered by the Minister
  • provide for appeal of a decision to an independent Tribunal
  • allow a third party merits review of decisions
  • regulate access to land by explorers and operators and allow the owner of land to specify terms of access
3. Environmental impact assessment is not adequate, therefore the law must:
  • be amended to provide for environmentally sustainable development as the primary object
  • require environmental impact assessment processes and decisions to be transparent and available for public submission
  • require environmental impact assessment for exploration activity
  • require consideration of environmental differences across the NT, so that a template assessment process is not available
  • require an operator to integrate waste water management planning into exploration and production as a requirement for licensing
  • waste water management plans to incorporate well and field abandonment
  • require the consideration of land use, generally and provide for land use reservations.
4. Regulatory oversight is not effective, therefore the law should be changed to:
  • one agency (EPA) should regulate all environmental impacts of fracking, including water pollution and contamination on the site
  • require skilled regulatory officers should attend sites in person on a regular basis
  • remove intent and knowledge as elements of environmental offences
  • increase penalties and extend statute of limitations for prosecutions
  • apply the Water Act to all mining activity including exploration for fracking, so that water usage is regulated
  • apply the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act to all mining activity, regardless of where it takes place
  • implement structural co-ordination between relevant government agencies
5. The real cost of fracking should be known and recovered from Operators, including:
  • wear and tear on public infrastructure including roads
  • water usage and pollution
  • costs for rehabilitation of wells and fields
  • reduction in value of land to landholders as a result of fracking

History suggests that the risk of fracking is far too high and the potential for serious long-term impacts are too great. Therefore, I support a moratorium on all fracking until all of these risks have been properly assessed by independent science.


Miranda O'Keefe