03 Aug 2016

All too often public discussion of the impacts of natural gas exploration and production is dominated by false, unfounded claims.

Apparently well-meaning and concerned citizens claim a range of environmental and social ills will accompany development. But evidence is rarely presented to support these claims.

Arguments against the development of the Territory’s natural resources involve wild claims that onshore gas development will threaten tourism, food production, our water resources, human health and climate change.

The fact is the natural gas industry has a demonstrated track record of working in partnership with other industries, operating safely and protecting the environment while providing a lower carbon energy source that is enabling major economies to respond to climate change.

Repeated airing of alarmist claims unsupported by evidence does nothing to inform public debate.

This industry could be a significant investor in the Northern Territory and create thousands of jobs and real economic opportunity for the community – particularly in regional and remote areas.

With natural gas already generating over 90% of the Territory’s electricity, gas is critical in ensuring a continued reliable, affordable energy supply.

Because it can be quickly switched on and off, gas can also enable the phased introduction of more expensive and intermittent renewable energy sources, such as solar.

The gas industry has a long history of safe operations in the NT, a region with a similarly long history of multiple land uses. Of course, all industries must be conducted in a safe, environmentally sensitive manner. But there is no reason the gas industry can’t continue to do that.

This has been confirmed by repeated independent inquiries.

The Australian Council of Learned Academies, the Chief Scientist of NSW, a WA Parliamentary Inquiry, and a host of international studies have concluded any risks associated with fracking can be effectively managed by a robust regulatory regime, which the Territory is introducing.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, said late last year: “the evidence is that, if properly regulated, it’s completely safe.”

No doubt there are widespread questions and concerns in the community – but all too often these are stirred up by false and exaggerated claims.

The expansion of gas exploration in the NT will occur gradually. So there is plenty of time to build a better understanding of our industry’s activities and the community’s concerns.

Many industry information seminars have been held across the Territory as gas companies continue to talk, and listen, to the community.

These discussions are important, and they will continue.

The fact is, the gas industry has a long track record of safe, sustainable operations around Australia, including in the Territory.

A recent Deloitte Access Economics study found that developing NT onshore gas resources could create more than 6000 jobs and generate $1 billion in Territory government revenues over the next 20 years.

The industry acknowledges the community has genuine questions and concerns about the impact of natural gas operations, especially in areas where exploration and production have not previously occurred.

But calls for blanket bans on the industry or on hydraulic fracturing threaten economic harm for no environmental gain.

First published in the Northern Territory News on 3 August.