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Traditional Owners fear new NT law will create gas exploitation free-for-all

Giovanni Torre -

Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin fear new Northern Territory legislation will create "production by stealth", sidestepping requirements to consult and secure agreements with native title holders for full-scale industrial development on their country, by allow fracking companies to mine and sell gas at scale for up to 15 years at the exploration stage.

Lawyers for Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation have written to Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles asking her to reconsider the Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 which will allow holders of an exploration permit to produce, use or sell fracked gas at the exploration stage.


The Bill has been condemned for enabling the gas industry to produce gas at an unlimited volume for up to 15 years without the need to negotiate with Aboriginal people and pastoralists, or to undertake environmental and other checks usually required before obtaining a production licence.

Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation chair, Gudanji-Wambaya man and jungai (cultural lawman), Johnny Wilson, said his community was "shocked that the government has changed the rules to allow gas companies to do large scale mining on our country without our consent".


"As early as 2004, when exploration agreements were first made, our old people were told there'd be wells the size of billy cans. Gas companies didn't explain what fracking is or the damage it can do to our water, sacred sites, plants and animals. We now know there'll be four to five hundred wells and pipelines running across our country," he said.

Mr Wilson, who lives at Lightning Ridge outstation, said exploration agreements which had been signed by people very little information are now set to become "the hook, line and sinker" for large-scale industrialisation and production.


"Gas companies in the Northern Territory have never done the right thing by Aboriginal people but now they have lent on the government to allow them to ignore us even more," he said.

A Northern Territory government spokesperson told National Indigenous Times the Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 "does not override requirements under the Native Title Act 1993 or the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976" in relation to necessary agreements between relevant Traditional Owners and an exploration permit holder.

"Applications for production approval will not be considered until all 135 recommendations of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory Final Report have been completed," they said.

The Bill contains provisions for an exploration permit holder to seek the Minister's approval to use or sell appraisal gas rather than flare or vent gas during the flow testing of a petroleum well.

Mr Wilson described the legislation as "shameful".

"We have a responsibility to protect and care for our country for future generations," he said.

"How can we do this when the government says it's OK for the gas industry to not even talk to us or respect our right to self-determine what happens on our country?"

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