Privately-owned Theia Energy entered into a land use agreement over the weekend with the Karajarri Traditional Lands Association, the Traditional Owners of the region that is set to host Australia’s largest new oil hotspot.
The agreement involves approval for the small Perth-based company to go ahead with oil and gas fracking in the Great Sandy Desert, in an area about 150 kilometres southeast of Broome.
The ‘Great Sandy Desert Project’, has long been endorsed by the company as a “world class petroleum” opportunity.
“The company is grateful to the Karajarri People for the trust they have placed in the company to safely and sustainably explore for, and if successful, extract, oil and gas resources from the permit area and transport them to potential markets,” Theia Energy said in a statement.
Documents obtained from the Theia Energy website, some of which have since been removed, outline the discovery of up to 57 billion barrels of oil.
The project aims to produce up to 100,000 barrels a day, which would generate billions of dollars in tax revenue.
The oil find is locked in dense rock, and requires hydraulic fracking to allow its release from deep underground.
Karajarri Traditional Lands Association Chair Thomas King led the negotiations on behalf of Traditional Owners, and said in an interview with the ABC he hopes employment opportunities would flow from the project.
“Employment opportunities are pretty limited as you can imagine in a community of up to 1,000 people with no industry,” King said.
“We as Traditional Owners … will take advantage of any of those opportunities and hopefully add to the quality of life for people in the community.”
Despite the endorsement of the Karajarri Traditional Lands Association, not all Traditional Owners are happy with the decision that gives Theia Energy the all-clear to frack.
A protest through Broome on Saturday opposed the go-ahead, with protestors marching toward the hotel where negotiations for the land use agreement were taking place.
Many of the protestors identified as the Traditional Owners of areas neighbouring the Karajarri Native Title area, including the Mangala people.
Fracking has long been touted as an environmental hazard both internationally and within the Kimberley, but the WA Government lifted a moratorium on it last year after an independent study found the risk of fracking to the environment and people was low.
The lifting of the moratorium also introduced new rights for Traditional Owners, giving them more power in negotiating projects that require fracking.
However, the conversation regarding the safety of fracking is still in question due to contradictory information.
In July, the CSIRO was accused of having a conflict of interest with the coal seam gas industry following the release of a report that found fracking had “little to no impact on the environment”.
Experts from a number of academic institutions, including Queensland’s Griffith University and ANU’s Climate Change Institute, said the report had fundamental issues.
The study was criticised for testing just six gas wells out of the 19,000 across Queensland, a sample size that experts said “doesn’t pass the pub test”.
“There’s simply not enough sites that are tested and also I think there could be a concern that the sites were chosen by the gas industry itself,” former Australian chief scientist, Professor Penny Sackett said.
Theia Energy is set to be the second company to proceed with the new rules surrounding Indigenous negotiations on fracking, after Black Mountain Metals announced its plan to drill and frack six wells on Noonkanbah Station in the central Kimberley.
The company is waiting on environmental approvals that will be rolled out with the state election in March 2021.
Theia Energy had hoped to drill the well this year, but they are now looking to begin in 2022.
By Imogen Kars