Theia Energy fracking, ports, and oil pipeline project for west Kimberley to be voted on by Indigenous group

Indigenous native title holders will vote in the coming days on giving approval to an oil and gas fracking project, connected by pipelines to new and existing ports, which may become Australia’s biggest.

Karajarri Traditional Lands Association (KTLA) chief executive Martin Bin Rashid declined to be interviewed by the ABC, but confirmed in a statement that a vote would be taken on the project by native title holders.

“KTLA will put the negotiated ILUAs [Indigenous land use agreement] to the Karajarri native title holders at an authorisation meeting on August 28,” the statement said.

“The ILUAs cover further exploration on Karajarri country and, if that exploration is successful and Theia Energy’s project proceeds, native title and cultural heritage approvals processes for future production and the development of infrastructure to support the project.”

Theia Energy declined to comment beyond saying, “this is really a matter for the Karajarri”.

The conceptual development of the project shows new pipelines, roads, ports and industry.(Supplied: Theia Energy)

The ABC has previously reported on the potential for Theia Energy’s Great Sandy Desert project to become Australia’s biggest oil producer.

Documents obtained from the company’s website that have since been removed say it has found as much as 57 billion barrels of oil in the desert location 150 kilometres south-east of Broome.

The oil find is described as “unconventional”, meaning it is locked in dense rock that will need hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to allow the oil to flow to the surface.

Theia Energy, a small Perth-based company, was created in 2018 when Finder Exploration split into Finder Energy for its offshore projects and Theia Energy for its onshore Great Sandy Desert project.

Potentially $250 billion in tax revenue

A project factsheet produced by Theia Energy and dated 2018 suggested that of the tens of billions of barrels of oil estimated to be locked in the shale rock, six billion barrels were recoverable.

The Theia-1 exploration well
Theia Energy’s only well is the Theia-1 exploration well in the Great Sandy Desert, drilled in 2015.(Supplied: WA Department of Mines and Petroleum)

This could be worth $250 billion in tax revenue and $55 billion in royalties to government and would require a $77 billion capital investment, the document said.

The project aims to ramp oil production up to 100,000 barrels a day, which, if achieved, would easily make it the country’s biggest oil-producing project.

But in an interview with the ABC in August 2019, Theia Energy’s chief operating officer, Jop van Hattum, was more cautious about the potential of the project to progress to this scale.

“There is a potential for that, there’s a lot of work to be done to see if that is all possible,” he said.

A wellhead behind a barbed wire fence.
North-west Australia has previously been touted as having a huge potential for oil and gas.(ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

‘Up to Karajarri people’

The WA Government officially lifted its moratorium on fracking in 2018 after an independent scientific inquiry found the risk of fracking to people and the environment was low.

But fracking remains effectively banned in the state, awaiting the introduction of new regulations including a right of veto for native title holders and a code of practice for the industry.

The Government has previously acknowledged that required legislation cannot be passed before the state election in March 2021.

Theia Energy will now be the second company attempting to proceed with an Indigenous agreement on fracking, ahead of the introduction of the Government’s new rules, after Black Mountain Metals announced its plan to drill and frack six wells on Noonkanbah Station in the central Kimberley.

In his statement, Mr Bin Rashid said the vote on the proposal came at the end of a long process to allow Karajarri people to make an informed decision.

“KTLA has undertaken its own due diligence and undertaken an extensive consultation process with Karajarri native title holders,” he said.

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A touch of light: fracking advice from an artesian diving beetle


All photos © Mike Gillam

I look at a map of major aquifers in central Australia variously named Ngalia, Amadeus, Lake Eyre, their boundaries delineated and mapped in reassuring detail, parts of which are now overlaid by gas exploration leases that leave no gaps in between.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this country but I know of secret places with water features, the kind that aren’t mapped and delineated. Sandstone gorges with unique petroglyphs and aquatic macro-invertebrates still waiting to be discovered.

My camera captures the gyrating motion of whirlygig beetles that move so quickly they displace water, leaving visible tubes in their wake (image second from bottom). Water striders gather, like hyenas at a carcass on the African Plain, around the discarded head of a grasshopper.

River channels with deep pools reveal their secrets at night; primitive transparent prawns with impossibly long mandibles, a curious purple spotted gudgeon, desert gobies and eel-tailed catfish swim slowly through the torchlight.

Here’s the riverine burrowing frog, Opisthodon spenceri, that comes to the surface to hunt insects and vanishes beneath the sand at sunrise. They live in the sandy margins of the river channel pools and keep hydrated by following the subtle movements of the water table; year after year, centimetre by centimetre, as they wait for a summer flow of the river and a chance to breed (image at bottom).

To survive and prosper in the semi-arid and arid lands of Centralia, Aboriginal people needed an encyclopaedic knowledge of their country, especially water sources, their lifeline in good seasons and drought. Even today their knowledge at a local level collectively surpasses and is much more nuanced than the broad brush mapping of water resources by Government.

The Arrernte dictionary, published by IAD Press, lists well over 40 conditions, types and actions of water. For example, kwatye-kwerte, meaning misty rain, combines the words for water and smoke. Brown water from fallen leaves and bark tannins is unerre. Froth on running water in creeks is antye and damp earth is terte.

Not surprisingly it was the permanent surface waters that were most valued. For every Aboriginal person these rare places were the most revered, most protected and sacred features of their country.

With the arrival of Europeans, water places became flashpoints of conflict and more often great anguish, as people were driven off or helplessly watched as their sacred sites were damaged by herds of livestock.

During the outstation movement from the 1970s to the present day, remote communities and homelands were often established at or near the beloved wells or permanent pools inhabited by rainbow serpents, those powerful ancestors from the age of creation.

One such carpet snake ancestor connects the Todd River south of Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap) at Alice Springs with the sacred rockhole at Arurlte Artwatye  (Native Gap) 115 km north of the town and the waterhole at Glen Helen 150 km to the south-west.

This site is located in the Hann Range, a sandstone ridge overlaying basement rock and situated in the Ngalia Basin, a place of remarkable subterranean diving beetles.  (This is a new frontier for scientists and many new stygobitic (living exclusively in groundwater) life-forms are being found and described.) 

Elements of the carpet snake creation story shared by Arrernte and Anmatyerr people are described at the Arurlte Artwatye  reserve.

 “A giant carpet snake ancestor came out of the small waterhole. Before leaving he sang a song which was so full of feeling that the throats of the young maidens felt as if they were tightly bound with grass… Again he sang and once again the young women were Witchelka – choked with emotion and love.

“His song complete, the great snake rested his head on the range. Then he went up into the sky to return to earth at the Glen Helen waterhole, 150 km in the south-west. In the form of a man he then walked back…to Native Gap where he remains today.”

The map within this story highlights the value and paucity of permanent waters, the movement of people between them and the importance of song-lines connecting country and language groups. While knowledge of this nature might be widely shared, one person was unlikely to be the repository of it all.

So it was that I was shown a site many years ago, a place that people were worried for, a place that unthinking people might damage in the bed of Lhere Mparntwe (the Todd River ), south of Ntaripe. The site was identified by the Medusa-like roots of an ancient gum in the river bed, carefully covered up with sand. From there I was given sparing details of a snake that rose up into the sky and flew north to the rockhole at Arurlte Artwatye.

Underground aquifers feature prominently in popular film culture, much of it borrowed from the United States, gritty and gilded stories of pioneering triumphs over adversity. Everyone is familiar with the scene of well diggers using dynamite in final desperation and the satisfying geyser of water shooting skywards under pressure.

Less familiar is the 1880 account of workers on the Overland Telegraph Line who blasted a ‘native well’, very likely a permanent source of water, a rockhole, in an attempt to make the supply bigger and better. The site of this disaster resulted in the loss of the water-holding feature at Arurlte Artwarte: the water drained away.

I daresay such acts greatly eroded trust in European government and belief in the ingenuity of western technology. There’s every indication that little has changed in the intervening 100 years except perhaps the loss of trust in government has by now permeated more widely, especially on matters of the environment and the role of corporations. 

In Centralia the precarious availability of surface waters led to the pastoral industry’s ambitious industrialisation of subsurface resources. The water story gathered pace in the decades following World War II with widespread drilling for groundwater. The rangelands were finally conquered with windmills and the tyranny and authority of climate was gradually silenced for a time.

This allowed pastoralists to graze more stock, much more widely, with the support of frequently placed windmills that pumped water to surface tanks and troughs. We will never know how many rockholes, how many fragile seepages and relict species were lost as water tables lowered and the supply to natural features ceased or slowed.

Natural surface waters and the surrounding lands bore the brunt of grazing in the early days but the creation of numerous permanent waters throughout Centralia enabled vastly more country to be exploited without pause.

Today there are around 35,000 known water bores in the Northern Territory. I’d suggest that our society understood precious little of what was risked and ultimately lost during pastoralism’s industrialisation of water.

Now the industrialisation of water in Centralia’s rangelands has entered a new phase of escalation, extraction and grazing intensity but there will be no independent review of the environmental costs. Kilometres of poly pipes are being laid across the land so that cattle may fully and constantly reach every last fertile corner that was not previously supported by permanent water.

With huge evaporation rates in excess of two metres per annum and an annual rainfall of less than 300 mm, permanent waterholes such as Glen Helen and Boggy Hole are invariably sustained through a connection with subsurface aquifers.

In a handful of rare places located in the Chewings and George Gill Ranges, water trapped within layers of rock and released gradually through fractures result in continuous, albeit minor, stream flow. These relict streams persist on the surface over relatively short distances and usually overflow into a permanent water source. The importance of these rare freshwater environments were highlighted by ecologist Jenny Davis who has led associated research and survey efforts in Centralia since 1993.

Among the notable discoveries was the presence of the water penny, Sclerocyphon fuscus, a species also known from temperate south-eastern Australia.

Unlike whirlygig beetles that readily take to the air to disperse, the water penny beetle that Davis describes is a life-form of low vagility (its spread within an environment). Larvae are usually found in riffle environments, in exceptionally clean water attached to rocks. Clustered individuals have given rise to the common name of leopard rock and adults, while terrestrial, are unable to fly.

I’m certainly convinced by the insights of Dr Davis in her evidence provided to the Northern Territory fracking enquiry.  “…As my previous research has shown, water resources are vital refuges in dry landscapes. Some subterranean aquifers and mound springs supported by the underground waters of the Great Artesian Basin are “evolutionary refugia”, supporting species that have persisted for up to a million years and which live nowhere else on earth.

“Springs in the Central Ranges support relict populations of aquatic insect species, such as mayflies, caddisflies and waterpennies, that were once more widespread but became isolated as the continent became increasingly dry.

“Groundwater-fed springs across the Outback are likely to be important refuges in the future because they are mostly decoupled from regional rainfall. However, if springs are polluted or allowed to dry completely, extinctions will occur because the specialised species they support cannot easily disperse to live somewhere else…”

And I could not pass up this cautionary quote from RMIT’s Dr Gavin Mudd in his evidence to the fracking enquiry: “The constant emphasis on risks being low and manageable just shows too much confidence,” he said. “We need to be much more realistic and mindful of examples [of contamination] like PFAS, like McArthur River Mine, Rum Jungle and Red Bank Copper Mine.”

Like Dr Mudd, I want to know when the pro fracking Federal and Territory Governments intend to clean up the Rum Jungle uranium sites, dating back to the 1950s and described as one of the most polluted sites in Australia.

At the time of writing, an election looms in the Northern Territory and the subject of ‘fracking’ and the promised gas boom is at the forefront of many voters’ minds. Setting aside for a moment the Federal Government’s egregious role in pressuring the Northern Territory to embrace fracking and admitting my own limitations in analysing this complex issue, I do understand a few things.

Fracking represents another huge potential drain on artesian water and added risks of pollution by this water intensive industry.

A number of major fracking companies in the US have recently filed for bankruptcy and a huge number of uncapped wells with climate-wrecking potential will presumably be left for the taxpayer to remediate. Will rogue emissions be ignored by politicians for decades to come?

A recent article published in the New York Times makes me shudder. “The federal government estimates that there are already more than three million abandoned oil and gas wells across the United States, two million of which are unplugged, releasing the methane equivalent of the annual emissions from more than 1.5 million cars.” 

In the right hands, mining technology can operate with a high regard for environmental safety although I’ve seen first hand the shocking disregard for sacred sites by profit-driven miners. I also know as an absolute truth that the Northern Territory Government does not have high standards when it comes to compliance. In terms of proactive environmental enforcement they are generally missing in action and the consequences of taking action after the fact don’t bear thinking about.

So I say, Vote (1) artesian diving beetle!

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Braitling is an endurance race, says anti fracking Hopper


Almost 14% of the Territory has already had their say in the August 22 election via early voting, says the NT Electoral commission.

Here in Alice Springs voters have been streaming through the early voting centre at the old ANZ bank on the Todd Mall.

In Braitling, where the grand total of seven candidates are jockeying for around 5600 votes, 693 ballots are already in the box, in an electorate that will surely go down to the wire.

Independent candidate for Braitling Kim Hopper says that with so many days of early voting, whoever comes out on top in Braitling will be the winner of  “an endurance race.”

Ms Hopper, who is running on a pro-renewable, anti-fracking policy slate, says that the implementation of a Safe Drinking Water Act is essential for the future of the Territory.

“At the moment water testing regimes in most of our bush communities are legally unenforceable, unregulated and the water supplier (usually Indigenous Essential Services) is not legally accountable to residents.

“There are no enforceable minimum drinking water quality standards across the NT, and drinking supply is unlicensed in remote communities (unlike major towns). 

“The water crisis is set to intensify with a huge number of communities across the NT at risk of running out of drinking water as we enter a hotter, drier climate with less certain rainfall,” says Ms Hopper.

“Many more have been left for years to drink water with unsafe levels of contaminants caused by reckless mining and government neglect.”

The Independent says while a Safe Drinking Water Act would hold people and organisations accountable, vested interests and poor policy are the heart of the cause of these problems.

“The Gunner Government’s regulatory framework for water is wholly inadequate to protect our water supplies from high-risk activities like gas and oil fracking. 

“Fracking, supported by Labor and the CLP, is an extremely water intensive industry, and undermines the Territory’s fragile water security.

“A single fracked well can use up to 60 million litres of water. There exists a wealth of peer reviewed scientific literature that demonstrate the risks fracking poses to water.”

Ms Hopper points to the NT Government’s own inquiry conducted in 2017, as proof of the dangers posed to the Territory’s water supply by fracking. 

That inquiry found that the data regarding the NT’s water supply was “insufficient to permit the risks associated with the development of any onshore gas industry in the NT to be assessed.”

Ms Hopper says legislative action must be taken to stop SANTOS and Origin Energy from accessing the nearly 400 million litres of water they have been permitted from the Barkly tablelands, an area that is currently in extreme drought. 

For Ms Hopper, all of this ties into reducing government debt.

Ms Hopper says, as in Independent, she would fight for legislation that enshrines confidence in the fact that “liveability of our Arid Zone is at the forefront of our Government’s agenda”.

By doing this, the government can attract investment and make the Territory the “renewables powerhouse” it should be.

This in turn would create jobs and drive up the population and ease debt, says Ms Hopper.

Every policy sticking point and difference will likely make a difference in Braitling, where preferences are sure to play a role.

For example, Ms Hopper, who completely opposes onshore drilling, has a relatively similar stance on the subject to the newly formed Territory Alliance.

That said, they agree on little else. Hopper has placed TA candidate Dale McIver sixth out of seven on her how to vote card, indicating that the surprising anti-fracking stance of the new conservative party is not enough to gain her support. 

Instead, Hopper has placed the Greens’ candidate Peltharre Chris Tomlins as her second choice, followed by recently stepped down councillor turned Australian Federation Party candidate Marli Banks as her third preference.

The Battle for Braitling is already one-tenth over, but the result is impossible to guess.

Photos: top, the female side of the Braitling race; above, fracking wastewater, online image.

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‘No fracking’ a Territory Alliance promise hard to keep


“No fracking in the NT” is a brave promise by the Territory Alliance but one that may be hard to keep if it wins government at next week’s election.

There is a clue in the second sentence of the party’s policy position paper: “Under Territory Alliance there will be no more fracking in the Northern Territory.”

Not any fracking or no more?

This comes next: “Existing exploration licences will not be renewed, and no more production permits will be issued.”

It seems clear this could only happen with legislative changes that would expose the horrendously indebted Territory to massive compensation claims from the oil and gas industry.

Says the Department of Primary Industry and Resources, responding to questions from the Alice Springs News: “When a commercially viable petroleum discovery is made exploration permit holders have a legal right to a production licence.”

There are few production leases: A producing oil and gas field (OL4) at Mereenie west of town; producing gas fields at Palm Valley (west, OL3) and Dingo (south of town, L7); and a gas discovery (RL3) at Ooraminna, also south.

But there are huge areas south and north-east of town under exploration permits (see purple areas on the map).

There are conditions for production licences but they are clearly not insurmountable.

Says the department: “An exploration permit holder must apply for a production licence and undergo assessment including an ‘appropriate person test’ as required under the Petroleum Act.

“A production licence is a form of tenure, it does not solely authorise the holder of the licence to produce petroleum for commercial operations.

“A licence holder must also seek activity approval to drill production wells or undertake production activity under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations, amongst other approvals.

“A production licence is granted for 21 or 25 years in accordance with the Petroleum Act.”

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has declined to comment but a source speaking on condition of not being named says if a Territory Alliance government rules out fracking as part of the conditions for production, the issue would almost certainly finish up in court: Companies have explored in good faith with Gunner government approvals, after it lifted the moratorium it had campaigned on during the 2016 election.

In NSW the government canceled exploration permits, but faced heavy buy-back costs, says the source.

Meanwhile according to the Australian LNG Monthly lower oil prices are having a significant effect on Australian LNG with extended maintenance, continued cargo deferrals, lower prices and asset write-downs. LNG revenues are down 52% on a year ago.

We have asked Matt Paterson to comment. He is the Territory Alliance candidate for Namatjira, where significant areas are under exploration permits.

Photo at top is part of the cover of the party’s policy position paper.

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Roads, fracking, weeds and IT are on cattlemen’s mind – Alice Springs News




Bad roads are adding more than $51m in annual transportation costs for the NT cattle industry, says Ashley Manicaros, CEO of the NT Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA).


He says if – for example – the Plenty Highway (above) were to be better maintained and sealed, it would subtract up to six and half hours driving per trip.


“It can also have a great impact on the cattle,”  says Mr Manicaros.


“The more the cattle are bounced around, the greater weight loss.”


Data analysis from Future Beef estimates that for every six hours without feed or water, cattle lose 2.5% of their live weight.


The NTCA says that currently 80% of the Territory’s roads are unsealed.


In a submission to the Government’s Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission (TERC), Mr Manicaros (pictured) has suggested a $535m, five-year road project that he says would create nearly 3000 jobs.


The six roads put forward for works are Marindja Road and the Sandover, Tablelands, Carpentaria, Buchanan and Roper highways.


The Plenty Highway has already been allocated funds through the Outback Way project, which the submission suggests should be accelerated from its current schedule.


“It’s these main feeder roads which we need to see both sealed and upgraded.


“Because there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of stock on all of those roads.”


Some 80% of the money for a project such as this would come from the Federal Government, leaving the NT to foot the final 20%.


On roads, the TERC report says, “quality road infrastructure is the backbone of economic development across a region.


“Roads are also expensive to build, and the Territory’s vast distances provide a challenge for achieving the right balance between cost and access.”


Other than supporting the existing project on the Central Arnhem Road, and suggesting further funding for the project, the TERC has little else to say on the subject, aside from that it “recognises the potential value of the Tanami Road, with its gradual sealing funded by the Australian Government under the National Partnership Agreement on Land Transport”.


In a financially smaller submission to the TERC, Mr Manicaros and the NTCA propose a $15m spend on a three-year weed eradication program that stands to create almost 500 jobs.


“There are more than 40 identified weeds in the Northern Territory,” says Mr Manicaros.


Separate from the TERC submission, the NTCA is calling for a $20m spend on biosecurity over the next term of government that would make up for “dramatic reductions in resources both within the department of primary industries and the department of environment as it relates to biosecurity.”


The NTCA calls for at least three wash down bays across the Territory to combat the further spreading of weeds and potentially industry crushing outbreaks such as African Swine Fever.


“We have no wash down bays that are public in the Northern Territory at all.


“So as a part of that biosecurity injection, we’d like to see at least three, potentially four in the Northern Territory, certainly one each in the Barkly, Katherine and Alice Springs areas, and one potentially on the South Australian border.”


Mr Manicaros says that this will become increasingly important as the resource industry continues to grow and more and more equipment is crossing state borders.


He says: “There is a view from within government that the resources sector might be prepared to invest in that area as a part of their social license commitment and their own required biosecurity measures.


“At the end of the day, we don’t care how they come to be, as long as there are wash down bays put in place as a priority, over the next year or so.”


Another problem rural producers represented by the NTCA are facing is internet connection.


The NTCA claims that rural users are now restricted to “minimal download, minimal speed and a disproportionate increase in the price per meg”.


Besides causing problems with “accounting practices, adoption of new technologies, social media communication, remote education and online marketing,” Mr Manicaros says that it is also limiting producers’ ability to use new and sometimes cheaper technology.


“At the moment many of our producers are using satellite technology to measure and monitor water bores. That can be quite expensive.


“There are other innovative applications that are digital and mobile phone based that could be used. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to them because we don’t have the connectivity or the infrastructure in place to be able to do it.


“That needs to improve before we can take full advantage of innovation in the cattle production sector.”


Also, driving a truck through the desert can be a dangerous task, one that could be made safer with continuous ‘phone service along the Territory’s main veins.


“No one is expecting a Rolls Royce service, but from a safety point of view, we would hope that we could have some sort of relayed communication service that allows us to access mobile phone services far more frequently than we can.”


Pictured in 2015 is 12-year-old year six pupil Ziggy Solczaniuk doing satellite based School of the Air work at Ross River.


To solve this problem, Mr Manicaros suggests a dollar-for-dollar-matching scheme between the NT and Federal governments in association with service providers.


“That would be extremely beneficial for the whole of the Northern Territory, not just the pastoral sector.”


Then there is the topic that seems to be piercing almost every conversation around the upcoming election: Hydraulic fracturing.


Throughout the time effected by Covid-19, Mr Manicaros says the cattle industry “has managed to maintain its productivity and also continue its output.


“It’s also managed to keep the 10,000 people that it employs, directly and indirectly in jobs.”


It’s an industry that works off low input costs, and high output, however, he says that more certainty is required for people who invest in NT cattle and farming.


The NTCA policy position paper suggests that a “power imbalance” between land owners and resource companies needs to be corrected to avoid “increasing impacts and tension between primary producers and mining and petroleum licensees” as the “intensity of exploration and exploitation increases”.


To balance the situation, the NTCA says that the land access agreements both under petroleum and mineral legislation need to be aligned so that “landholders are no longer dealing with two sets of rules”.


As it stands, a company wishing to use hydraulic fracturing to access shale gas on a property must pass a set of 24 standards, including compensating the landholder. However, if agreements cannot be reached, two weeks’ notice of upcoming “regulated activity” (read: fracking), will suffice.


Without changes to the Mineral Act, there can be no certainty. Without certainty, investment is at risk.


Balancing agriculture and resources will prove tricky for whomever is in power come September.




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Territory Alliance party, fracking policy making NT election ‘much more difficult to call’

On a shelf in a corner of his Palmerston electorate office, there’s a framed newspaper front page from the day Terry Mills became Chief Minister eight years ago next month.

A headline on the page heralds “a new era” beginning under Mr Mills and the Country Liberal Party he had just led to government.

The era didn’t last long for Mr Mills, who was dumped by the party seven months later, quit parliament the following year and then split with the CLP.

Now he wants the top job back.

That’s despite what he says when asked if he liked his short time in the role.

“It’s like asking someone who’s at war ‘do you really enjoy being a soldier in the war?'” he said.

It will be eight years next month since Terry Mills became Chief Minister, briefly.(ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)

After returning to the battlefield of Northern Territory politics as an independent, Mr Mills formed the Territory Alliance late last year.

He describes it a “grassroots alternative” to the two major parties, devoted to delivering good governance.

And it’s being treated as a serious contender in the election coming up on August 22.

‘There are seats it will win’

Heading into next month’s poll, the Gunner Labor Government holds 16 out of the 25 seats in Northern Territory Parliament.

Coronavirus may change things, but the party’s near-death experience in the Johnston by-election in February did not soothe the nerves building within Labor about the verdict voters will cast in August.

The Country Liberals limped into fourth place at the by-election, while the Territory Alliance charged into second in its first election effort.

Mr Mills has been the recent target of Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s politicking on social media rather than Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro, and the Territory Alliance has tallied more than the CLP in campaign donations so far.

The variables are keeping ABC election analyst Antony Green on his toes.

“[Territory Alliance] is going to poll well,” he said.

“There are seats it will win, there are seats it will be competitive in.

Fracking move yet to get green tick

To top things off, the wild card contender has thrown a policy twist into the mix with the promise to ban fracking if it wins the election.

Last month’s announcement was slammed by the industry and business groups as well as both major parties.

But Mr Mills cites the fracking decision when asked for an example of his party’s promise to do politics differently.

“When our candidates have gone across the NT … you discover that Territorians are generally not supportive of hydraulic fracturing,” he said.

Fracking protest outside NT Parliament
Terry Mills’ fracking announcement coincided with the release of polling.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“The case hasn’t been made adequately to satisfy [the community’s] concerns.

He said the community was reflected in the party’s 600 members.

But although there was an early membership vote on fracking, the policy itself was decided by the election team.

The surprise announcement came on the same day as polling commissioned by anti-fracking group Lock the Gate, which said 86 per cent of 1,264 surveyed Territorians said they “opposed” fracking.

The promise has been cautiously welcomed by environment groups, but none have rushed forward to endorse Territory Alliance yet.

Environment Centre NT director Shar Molloy said she was waiting to see the party outline the legislative changes that would put its policy in practice.

‘A whole lot of people normally at odds’

In the corner of the framed newspaper front page is Robyn Lambley, pictured beaming with the new CLP Government she too would quit in acrimonious fashion before the term was up.

The Alice Springs-based MLA sat as an independent before joining Territory Alliance in March this year.

Territory Alliance members stand before a camera at a press conference. Leader Terry Mills is in the centre.
Terry Mills says party members from different political backgrounds share “a capacity to collaborate”.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

She arrived not long after ex-Labor member Jeff Collins, who quit the Government after he was ousted from caucus for publicly criticising the Gunner Government’s economic strategy.

Behind the scenes, former Labor leader Delia Lawrie, who also fell out with her party, is serving as the party’s deputy campaign manager.

Mr Mills said the Territory Alliance was built by people “with the capacity to collaborate in a mature way.”

Retiring independent Gerry Wood, who is supporting an independent candidate in his rural Darwin seat, said the line-up makes for an ideological mixed bag.

“There’s a whole lot of people in that party that you’d think would normally be at odds with what you’d think Terry Mills would be standing for,” he said.

Preferences key in August poll

There were strange pairings too in the Johnston by-election.

The NT Greens declared their move to preference Labor last in the poll as punishment for allowing fracking to go ahead.

The CLP preferenced Labor in a bid to kill off competition from the Territory Alliance.

CLP president Ron Kelly said reports the party was considering the same move in next month’s election were just “the media making mischief”.

Green predicts a lot could ride on the prospect of a deal between Mr Mills and the party that dumped him eight years ago.

“If they fall short, is there an alternative government? If the Country Liberals and the Territory Alliance, can they have enough seats together to govern?

“They’ll only have enough seats together if there is a strong swap of preferences between those two non-Labor parties.”

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Tweedledum and Tweedledee both like fracking – Alice Springs News



The Country Liberal Party says “it is going for gas,” quoting the possible creation of 13,600 jobs and $3.7 billion in tax revenue, while the Australia Institute says you almost couldn’t give gas away, and the cost of fracking would make petrochemical manufacturing in the Territory unviable without massive taxpayer subsidy.


Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro relies on the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory for the benefits and says: “Over $400 million has already been spent on exploration in the Beetaloo, creating jobs and income for Territory businesses.”


The enquiry was initiated by the Gunner Government in 2017. Now widely regarded as a device for bringing in fracking, long-time Labor supporters are fuming that they were sold out by the ALP on the issue.


As things stand, Government and Opposition, conventionally seen as the two major parties, are in favour of fracking while most of the remaining field in next month’s election, especially the ascending Territory Alliance, is opposed.


The Australia Institute says: “The NT Government’s Power and Water Corporation had large surpluses of gas from the late 2000s.


“The NT Government spent millions trying to find takers for this gas and would likely have provided it at near-zero prices to projects that could provide significant employment.


“Yet employment in gas-related manufacturing sectors declined from 209 people to 193 people between 2006 and the 2016 census. Now with new supply from fracking likely to be high cost, and links to export and east coast markets in place, the era of cheap gas in the NT is over.”


The institute says developing petrochemical industries in this context is very unlikely: “Economic stimulus should be directed to labour-intensive service industries like tourism and healthcare.


“This report raises serious questions around the credibility of the Gunner Government and its plans for a major fracking industry,” according to  Terry Mills, former Chief Minister and leader of Territory Alliance, as quoted by the institute.


“Territorians need an honest conversation about fracking, not pipe-dream promises to develop industries that have been very difficult to establish in the Territory.”


Mr Mills would likely now include the CLP in his observations.


“If gas-based manufacturing couldn’t develop in the NT with near-free gas, it can’t be viable with expensive fracked gas,” says Rod Campbell, report author and Research Director at The Australia Institute.


“Employment in gas-related manufacturing sectors actually declined while the NT taxpayer was paying for gas that the Territory couldn’t use.


“Taxpayer-backed, foreign-owned gas projects like Blacktip and the Northern Gas Pipeline have already cost Territorians dearly.


“The subsidies that would be required to establish petrochemical manufacturing based on fracked gas would throw good money after bad.”


Mrs Finocchiaro, who was not available for an interview, said in a release she wants to standardise “the determination of gross value in consultation with industry and removing the process of individual producers negotiating deals which creates uncertainty, administrative cost and delay”.


That would be putting a stop to a nifty system under which the companies piled on expenses until little or no profit was left and consequently no royalties had to be paid.


Mrs Finocchiaro raises again today the issue of “ad valorem royalties” struck on the value of the gas at the wellhead.


This would “simplify the petroleum royalty regime and bring the Territory in line with other Australian jurisdictions and best global practice by retaining the current ad valorem rate of 10% at the wellhead rate,” says Mrs Finocchiaro.


When we reported on the issue in May she would not name a percentage “before the election”.


Now she is. But what is the wellhead price? Who sets the wellhead price?


As we reported: “The Net Value, part of the current hybrid system, is calculated according to this formula: Add up items downstream from the mine called “costs, capital recognition deduction, eligible exploration expenditure and additional deduction”. Then deduct that sum from “Gross Realisation”.


The royalty percentage is applied to that result. In what way are those deduction different to the ones used to rort the system now?


The questions we would have liked to ask  her:


• How much gas was produced in the last available reporting period?


• What was its sale value?


• How much did the NT receive in royalties?


• For what purposes?


• What was the net gain or loss for the NT?




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Fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy files for bankruptcy

Chesapeake Energy Corp., the archetype for America’s extraordinary shale-gas fortunes, filed for bankruptcy, becoming one of the biggest victims of a spectacular collapse in energy demand from the virus-induced global lockdown.

The Oklahoma City-based company filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas on Sunday, listing assets and liabilities in the range of $10 billion and $50 billion, and more than 100,000 creditors.

The company also entered into an agreement to eliminate about $7 billion in debt and secure $925 million in debtor-in-possession financing.

“We are fundamentally resetting Chesapeake’s capital structure and business to address our legacy financial weaknesses and capitalize on our substantial operational strengths,” Chief Executive Officer Doug Lawler said in a statement.

Chesapeake is, to a certain extent, victim of the success both it and its peers had in extracting huge volumes of gas from previously hard-to-exploit shale basins. While that turned the U.S. into a global supplier of the fuel to rival any other, it also contributed to a glut that weighed on prices. Natural-gas futures in New York traded last week at a 25-year low.

But the gas market is only part of the story. Earlier in its history, under the direction of its late co-founder Aubrey McClendon, a colorful and outspoken advocate for the natural gas industry, Chesapeake expanded aggressively. The heavy debt load it acquired in the process was a burden it ultimately couldn’t shake off.

About a decade ago, Chesapeake was a $37.5 billion giant at the forefront of the fracking revolution that transformed the U.S. oil and gas industry. The company cut eye-popping checks to Fort Worth businesses and residents as inducements to drill on their land in the Barnett Shale of North Texas, America’s first shale field to hit the big time.

U.S. natural gas slumped after the 2008 financial crisis as the frackers overwhelmed demand, and prices still haven’t revisited their previous highs. Investors soured on Chesapeake, which by that point wasn’t only debt-laden but saddled with a real estate empire that included shopping centers, a church, and a grocery store. McClendon was ousted in 2013 and died in an auto accident three years later.

In subsequent years, management sought to compensate for the decline in its gas fortunes by shifting into oil exploration as fracking turned the U.S. into the world’s largest producer of crude as well as a major exporter. However, any optimism about that strategy evaporated with oil’s recent price collapse amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the company’s efforts over the years to address leverage and profitability, “the recent and dramatic drop in commodity prices and resulting tightening of the credit markets have frustrated the Debtors’ ability to further deleverage absent a chapter 11 proceeding,” Chief Financial Officer Domenic J. Dell’Osso said in a declaration in support of the bankruptcy filings.

Lawler took over Chesapeake in 2013 with an aim of reducing its debt load that was larger than Exxon Mobil Corp.’s, a company 29 times Chesapeake’s market value at the time. He had counted on capital spending cuts and asset sales to cover debt obligations. The company was in talks last year with Jerry Jones, the billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner, about a $1 billion sale of shale assets, but no deal resulted.

In May, Lawler was forced to discard his company’s full-year outlook and write down the value of $8.5 billion in assets as energy demand tumbled amid the Covid-19 lockdown. By then, the producer’s market value had dropped to less than $200 million. The company had about 2,300 employees at the end of last year.

“Despite having removed over $20 billion of leverage and financial commitments, we believe this restructuring is necessary for the long-term success and value creation of the business,” Lawler said Sunday.

The bankruptcy follows that of another highflier in the U.S. oil patch, Whiting Petroleum Corp., which filed for Chapter 11 at the start of April after championing what was once the premiere U.S. shale field, the Bakken of North Dakota.

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Surprise election pledge to ban fracking announced by new NT party Territory Alliance

New political party Territory Alliance has used a turbulent session of Parliament to announce it will ban fracking in the Northern Territory if it wins the August NT election.

Leader Terry Mills flagged the party’s surprise new policy in Parliament on Tuesday morning immediately after the chamber noted the anti-corruption watchdog’s findings about Speaker Kezia Purick, who has resigned her position.

The policy sets the party apart from the Labor Government and Country Liberals Opposition, which both support development of the NT’s onshore gas reserves through hydraulic fracturing.

In the statement, Mr Mills said the decision was based on “widespread community concern” and said the economic case for fracking had become unviable. 

“Under a Territory Alliance government no more production permits will be issued, existing exploration licences will not be renewed and current operations [will be] subject to tough community and environmental safeguards.”

Territory Alliance will take its new fracking policy to the August NT election.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

The party’s policy document cites concerns about water contamination and greenhouse gas emissions and declining investor support for gas projects.

Mr Mills had previously said he was “not enthusiastic” about fracking but supported the onshore gas industry’s development in the short to medium term.

Territory Alliance ‘desperate’ before election: CLP

In Parliament, Mr Mills accused Labor of betraying voters who thought they were promised a ban on fracking at the last election. 

But prior to the 2016 election, Labor did not promise a ban on fracking.

It promised a moratorium on fracking while a scientific inquiry took place.

Lia Finocchiaro is wearing a red dress and black blazer and looks seriously at the camera.
CLP leader Lia Finocchiaro criticised the Territory Alliance position on fracking.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Both Labor and the CLP have promised to implement all the recommendations of that scientific inquiry, which found the risks of fracking could be managed, but are yet to outline plans to offset the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

CLP leader Lia Finocchiaro dismissed the pre-election change in position by Territory Alliance as a desperate” bid for votes.

“Gas is an important part of our economic future going forward and what Territory Alliance need to do is explain to Territorians how it’s going to fill the gap in jobs that the gas industry would have provided,” she said.

Matt Doman from the gas industry peak body, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, said the announcement was “extremely disappointing” and put jobs and investment at risk.

“It flies in the face of the [scientific inquiry’s] key findings that any risks associated with onshore gas development and hydraulic fracturing can be managed by effective regulation — which the Territory has in place,” he said.

But Shar Molloy from the NT Environment Centre said she wanted more detail on the commitment from Territory Alliance and stronger election policies from all sides of politics about using the Northern Territory’s renewable resources to drive the post-pandemic economic recovery.

“Going forward with fracking puts at risk our water, puts at risk our climate and it’s certainly questionable whether it’s even going to bring any economic benefit to the Territory, whereas very clearly pursuing a renewable economic recovery will,” she said.

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