Interview on ABC Radio Darwin Mornings
15 September 2016
Subject: NT moratorium on hydraulic fracturing
So, it's official: fracking is on hold across the Northern Territory but, although they had a mandate to do it, Territory Labor doesn't seem to have pleased everyone with their fracking moratorium announced yesterday. Environmentalists say it doesn't go far enough. Oil and gas industry and the Opposition says it undermines investment and threatens over 6000 jobs in the Northern Territory. The ACCC, they're worried about East Coast gas suppliers and think case by case assessments is better than blanket bans in the Territory. And Matt Canavan – he’s the Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia – he doesn't like it either. I spoke to him earlier and asked him why.
Well, our position has consistently been that you should look at things on a case by case basis. It's a big country, you've got a very big territory there in the north and there are going to be different circumstances in different areas. So, to put in place a one-size-fits-all approach which says “no” right across such a landscape, to me it doesn't make environmental, economic or social sense.
I'm a Queensland Senator and we do have coal seam gas in some locations. They've been there for decades. It supplies more than 90 per cent of Queensland's gas needs now. But, of course, there are some areas where we don't want to see coal seam gas in Queensland. The Scenic Rim – which is a lovely agricultural and lifestyle area close to Brisbane – there’s a moratorium on any coal seam gas, but I think we should have a horses-for-courses approach and be sensible about this. But look, I also said yesterday I respect the fact that (NT Chief Minister) Michael (Gunner) has won the election and he needs to meet his election commitments.
What do you think is at stake here in the Northern Territory?
Well look, it's a huge economic opportunity for the Northern Territory. As Rod Sims, the ACCC Chairman, has said, there's a massive shortage emerging for gas in southern markets.
They all need gas, down in Melbourne and in Sydney, and when someone needs something they're willing usually to pay for something as essential as gas and, when they're willing to pay for something, that provides an opportunity for people who can sell that – and the Northern Territory is in a position to sell gas.
It's got huge resources, it could create thousands of jobs and that's something that Northern Australia needs in my role as Northern Australia Minister, and I think Darwin needs too, given we're going to have a ramping down of the INPEX project and we need other jobs to replace those.
The ACCC, as you say, says the moratorium will threaten east coast gas supplies. How much of a concern is that?
Well, it is a major concern. It's been on the radar for some time but we are going to meet a reckoning point at some time. There is sufficient supply for the next few years but at some point the prices will increase of course. That will start to have an effect on economic development and industries that need to use lots of gas, particularly for things like fertiliser production, and it will also mean household bills for warming homes.
So the ACCC, they say the Northern Territory may be the answer to the nation's dwindling gas supply. But Matt, can we still focus on existing reserves without fracking? Isn't it disingenuous to suggest there are no economic opportunities without fracking, that this is the best and only option?
What I'm interested in is finding the cheapest option, the best option, the effective option and necessarily the more options you've got on the table to choose from the more likely you are going to be able to choose that best option.
We of course always will find alternatives in life but they might not be as easy or as cost effective as others that are round and all the information I am told is that there are substantial resources of tight and shale gas potentially in the Northern Territory. We're not completely sure about the scale and scope but the prospects look good and it would seem to me to be somewhat of a self-harming type move to turn your back on those opportunities and say we don't want to take them.
Now of course the science needs to be done. That's always a fundamental element. I recognise that Michael has now started a process to do more science. I have said that we're more than happy to work with the Northern Territory Government on that. The CSIRO has worked very closely with the Queensland Government on the development of their industry and we're happy for them to provide services for the Northern Territory Government as well.
You mentioned alternatives Matt. What do you think would have been a better alternative?
Well it's not about what I think is better or worse. What I want to do is make sure we look for the best opportunities for our entire nation and that's going to mean it's not going to be up to the Government to decide that. Ultimately, it will be up to the producers of gas, the purchasers of gas in southern markets – they'll make those decisions about what they think is the best
Matt Canavan, thanks for the chat this morning.
No worries Mick, thanks mate.