Next week the Northern Territory inquiry into hydraulic fracturing will begin its last phase of hearings and community forums.
It is an important last phase – for the NT and for Australia.
As emerged this week from a nationwide business survey, there is considerable optimism about the immediate future for business, employment and the economy.
The Australian Industry Group study found that Chief Executives of Australian businesses were upbeat about the Australian economy in 2018.
The one weak spot was energy.
“Expectations of high energy price rises are a clear negative for Australian CEOs,” the AIG report said.
It was no surprise then, to find a submission to the NT fracking inquiry this week which combined the voices of AIG, peak business representative group the Business Council of Australia and infrastructure company, Jemena.
The key message in the submission is that the draft report of the fracking inquiry has found that the proposed drilling areas are remote and that the risks can be managed – in some cases, entirely removed – with appropriate regulation.
Therefore, the inquiry should look to the potential benefits. And these are many, for the economy and the community, according to the BCA/AIG/Jemena submission.
AIG CEO Innes Willox put it plainly in a statement accompanying the submission:
“If the NT Government made the sensible decision to lift the ban on fracking and replace it with a robust, scientifically based regulatory framework there is no doubt that there would be immediate and long-term benefits to the NT economy and to the broader community.
“That includes not just exports to Eastern Australia and the wider world, and investment in construction of pipelines and other infrastructure, but the potential to grow downstream industries that turn gas into even more valuable products.”
Mr Willox went on to explain that natural gas development stimulated other sectors of the economy as well, creating an economic multiplier effect.
“AIG research shows that each petajoule of gas used by domestic Australian industry produces $255 million in economic output across the broader economy.
“These benefits include higher employment and incomes with associated rises in living standards.”
Contrary to assertions made by some opponents, natural gas development in the NT would create ongoing long-term jobs, he said.
“This is not just about cyclical jobs that occur during the construction phase of major projects.
“At a time when the NT economy is facing challenges it makes no sense to continue to prevent the potential boost to the economy from this new source of revenue.”
On the concerns regarding possible environmental impact, Mr Willox said:
“The community has had sincere concerns about the environmental impacts of fracking. But work for the Inquiry has found that even a large gas development would impact a tiny 0.03% of the Northern Territory’s land mass.
“The Inquiry has proposed a range of rules and protections to mitigate risks.”
He also took aim at natural gas developement blockers in Victoria and NSW:
“AIG hopes that a positive decision and workable framework in the NT would send a signal to Victoria and NSW to follow suit and end their effective freeze on gas development.
And the final word:
“The substantial resources of shale gas in the NT constitute an enormous opportunity for local and national economic development and security. This opportunity can and should be pursued responsibly.”
The NT inquiry is the 14th to be held in Australia (the second in the NT), but it is no less important than the first.
On current technology, natural gas is the best route to returning Australia to its previous position as a leader in affordable, reliable energy for consumers, small business and large enterprise.
NT is key because test drilling has shown very positive results for large quantities of good quality natural gas buried in shale formations two and three kilometres underground.
The finds are so prospective that no less than four major Australian oil and gas companies have sunk considerable resources into exploration and testing – and a pipeline owner has already started work on a very long connection to Australia’s East Coast gas network.
If these companies are right, the NT’s resources (primarily located in the remote Beetaloo basin, hundreds of kilometres south-east of Darwin) could be substantial enough to relieve very tight gas supply conditions for the next few decades, as we transition to a greater reliance on renewable energy.