Buru Energy and Origin Energy have partnered for drilling exploration and possible fracking in the Canning Basin of Western Australia’s Kimberley region despite protest from community.

The Canning Basin, known for its rich rock layers and geological formations, is significant to Aboriginal people and estimated to be between 70 million and 500 million-years-old.

These exploration regions are not subject to Western Australia’s fracking bans as the exploration licences were granted by the State’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

It’s understood some of the proposed exploration sites overlap with the Roebuck Bay Ramsar Wetland catchment, the national heritage listed Fitzroy River, Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area, Yawuru Indigenous Protected Area and the proposed Edgar Ranges National Park.

“Origin’s partner in the Canning Basin, Buru Energy, has a good track record exploring and operating in the Kimberley and working with Traditional Owners. Buru Energy will continue to be the operator in the partnership with Origin,” an Origin spokesperson told NIT.

While Buru Energy declined to comment, an ASX announcement by the company said they plan to “significantly advance exploration” by means of 2D or 3D seismic and large-scale drilling prospects.

Executive Director of Environs Kimberley, Martin Pritchard, said seismic programs significantly scar the landscape and wildlife habitats.

“Seismic programs involve bulldozing land in grids and are extremely damaging, creating corridors for introduced predators like cats and foxes that kill native endangered animals like bilbies,” Pritchard said.

Naomi Pigram, a Yawuru and Wadjarri person and the Greens candidate for Kimberley in the upcoming Western Australian election, spoke to the devastating consequences this partnership posed.

“Kimberley people have come together on several occasions to protest against fracking in the Kimberley and it is becoming abundantly clear that either the State Government are hard of hearing or just don’t care about the people of the Kimberley,” she said.

“For me, it sends a message to the Kimberley people, that our lives and health, and that of our future generations, don’t matter.”

Despite this, Origin was confident in Buru Energy’s current arrangements.

“Origin respects Buru Energy’s track record in working with Traditional Owners and the agency of Kimberley Native Title holders, with access to independent advice and legal representation, to determine what activities they choose to support on their Country,” said the Origin spokesperson.

However, Pigram quickly pointed out that Traditional Owners only have the right to negotiate — not stop fracking.

“Why not change the Native Title legislation to give Traditional Owners the right to decide on all matters related to their determination area?”

Greens candidate for the Kimberley, Naomi Pigram. Photo by Julia Rau Photography.

While it remains the right of Traditional Owners to decide on these types of permits; they are faced with a delicate balancing act.

They can either opt for an agreement which can help improve their communities’ social outcomes or continue their opposition to mining and risk eventually being forced into a situation of dependence.

Regarding the renewal of exploration permits, Executive Director Resource Tenure, Tony Bullen, of WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety told NIT while Buru Energy must apply under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 (WA) to renew an exploration permit, the regulations and requirements for environmental plans under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Environment) Regulations 2012 (WA) are “not linked directly to the renewal process” in the Act.

“If an exploration permit is eligible for renewal, it can be renewed for a period of five years,” Bullen said.

It’s understood permit renewals can be granted by the Department without an accompanying environmental plan.

Researchers from Murdoch University recently found shale gas could not be a viable energy source for sustainable development unless there was “stringent regulation and compliance on the upstream resource development”.

The effects of not doing so were detailed in an independent scientific inquiry into fracking in Western Australia in 2017. It found there would be immediate negative impacts to Aboriginal heritage, land, air and water viability.

“If the government of the day has any genuine regard for the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley, then they would understand that the Kimberley as a whole is connected and destroying one part of the Country will most certainly impact the other,” Pigram said.

By Rachel Stringfellow