NT Indigenous leaders tell Prime Minister to back off over fracking

NT Indigenous leaders tell Prime Minister to back off over fracking

NT Indigenous leaders tell Prime Minister to back off over fracking

Updated 8 October 2017, 10:00 AEDT

Indigenous leaders from across the Northern Territory are calling on the Gunner Government to not give in to pressure from the Prime Minister by overturning its fracking moratorium.

Indigenous leaders from across the Northern Territory are calling on the Gunner Government to not give in to pressure from the Prime Minister by overturning its fracking moratorium.

The leaders are holding demonstrations and strategy meetings throughout the weekend in the remote town of Elliot, in the heart of the Beetaloo Basin, which gas companies including Origin Energy want to target for fracking.

At a rally in Elliot's main street, Indigenous residents from Elliot, Tennant Creek, Yuendumu, Katherine and Borroloola called on the Territory Government to ban fracking permanently.

"Do we want to drink contaminated water? No! This will affect us mentally, socially, culturally, and our health, if fracking goes ahead," Elliot Indigenous resident Mary James said.

Borroloola resident Nicolas Fitzpatrick was among the group who travelled from Borroloola.

"We came 600 kilometres here to stand in solidarity with these mob from Marlinja and Elliot, because if they drill here and mess up the water here it can affect us all across the Territory. So it's very important that we stand together," he said.

Yuendumu community leader Ned Hargraves called on the NT Government to prioritise environmental concerns over the threat of losing GST money.

"This is the message to the Prime Minister: the Prime Minister needs to be educated first, about our rights and our dreamings. Do not allow fracking," he said.

"It's not good. It's not right, and it hasn't been explained properly to the communities in our region."

The protest organiser, Elliot resident Eleanor Dixon, said the NT Government should listen to local voters over Canberra.

"The NT Government needs to know that the people are against it and they should put us at the forefront of this ugly fight," she said.

Companies adamant water will not get poisoned

The remote residents' key concern is that to get to the Territory's deep shale gas reserves the companies would need to drill through the territory's interlinked water aquifers.

They said they feared cross-contamination between aquifers, loss of water pressure and contamination by chemicals used in the fracking process.

"It will get poisoned and it will be bad for the country and our next generation," Elliot resident Raymond Dixon said.

The companies are adamant that will not happen.

Origin Energy's unconventional exploration manager David Close said: "There is no systematic environmental impacts or impacts to groundwater and drinking water.

"The industry's track record is excellent. Our track record with our program to date has been excellent. If we look at North America where there have been tens of millions of individual fracture stimulation jobs, there have been such a minute number of events."

The Northern Territory Government is trying to reassure the public its decision will be guided by its scientific inquiry's recommendations in its draft report later this month.

It has said it will make a final decision on the moratorium after the final report in December.

'We don't want jobs that destroy our land'

But remote residents are particularly worried because the inquiry's interim report in July said there were no permanent surface water bodies in the Beetaloo Sub Basin, except in very wet years.

"One of the most glaring errors has been the assertion that there isn't permanent surface water in the Beetaloo region," said Lauren Mellor from the Lock The Gate Alliance.

In response to questions about the interim report water assessment, the inquiry chair justice Rachel Pepper gave the ABC a statement, saying: "anecdotal evidence presented to the panel suggests Lake Woods and the Longreach waterhole do contain water for extended periods, but the timing of these periods is not known to the panel at this stage."

Elliot traditional owner Raymond Dixon said after the long dry season, "Lake Woods and the Longreach waterhole have a lot of water in them now and they hold the water for the whole season".

"They have permanent water."

Mr Fitzpatrick said remote residents felt they had not been properly heard during the inquiry's social impact assessment consultations, carried out on behalf of the inquiry by private consultants.

"It was more like one-sided to make us, persuade us, to accept the fracking on our country," he said.

The company Cross Cultural Consultants (CCC) told the ABC that residents' views were recorded.

But in response to the criticism, the inquiry has announced it has now delayed the finalisation of the social impact assessment while the consultations are investigated.

"The inquiry has requested Coffey to undertake an immediate review of the work completed by the CCC," it said.

"When the inquiry receives this review, a decision will then be made on the consultation work completed by CCC from within the Beetaloo Sub Basin."

Mr Fitzpatrick said Indigenous communities wanted the Northern Territory and Federal Government to support and invest in other energy sources and industries, rather than fracking.

"We need to move towards clean energy and solar power," he said.

"I don't think fracking would bring a lot of jobs. We don't want jobs here that destroy our land.

"We want tourism and eco-tourism and cultural education jobs. We can make big money that way instead."