The Northern Territory Government has backed out of a lucrative contract with the consulting firm tasked with undertaking key research before fracking could begin in the Beetaloo Basin.

In a $1.3 million contract, WA-based firm Circle Advisory were to look at the cultural, social and economic impacts of fracking in the region.

The research was part of the Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) Cultural and Economic study.

The SREBA Framework provides guidance on how studies should be undertaken in six domains:

  • Water quality and quantity
  • Aquatic ecosystems
  • Terrestrial ecosystems
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Environmental health
  • Social, cultural and economic aspects.

The NT Government said its contract with Circle Advisory was rescinded due to unsatisfactory work in stage one, but that the SREBA study remains a priority with procurement to complete the study already underway.

“No production can commence until a company has ticked off all the items on the SREBA,” an NT Government spokesperson said.

“Stage One was not completed to the level required and as outlined in the tender request by the end of 2020.

“Procurement to complete Stage One is underway, with work expected to recommence by the middle of the year.”

The cancellation of the contract now casts doubt over the NT Government’s timeline to complete the SREBA by the end of 2022.

However, the government maintains that despite terminating its contract with Circle Advisory it will meet the target, as work has already commenced on the SREBA for the Beetaloo Basin.

Aboriginal groups in the past have protested the fracking, warning it could contaminate waterways which would threaten bush medicine plants and the community-run cattle business.

The government spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether the fracking study will take on board the concerns of Aboriginal people in the area.

By Madison Howarth