The Northern Territory could be on the cusp of a major economic resurgence, if its science-based independent inquiry gives a green light to natural gas development.
And there is a workforce ready and raring to make it happen, according to union representatives.
Those were the messages in the past week as the NT hosted a major regional resources conference and the local community started to anticipate some early signs from the scientific review of hydraulic fracturing being conducted by a panel chaired by Justice Rachel Pepper.
Natural gas has been a big part of NT life for many decades. In fact, the lights and air-conditioning would be out across the entire Territory if the gas supply was cut, because it provides the fuel for almost all of the NT’s electricity generation.
Natural gas chilled and exported as liquefied natural gas (LNG) has also been a boon for the NT economy since the Darwin LNG project kicked off more than a decade ago.
The Darwin LNG operator (ConocoPhillips) and partners (Inpex and Santos) are contemplating a possible second LNG export production unit at Darwin following a NT Government announcement of a feasibility study, flagged in April.
Unions are naturally interested in jobs for workers – and these have been fewer in the NT in the past year.
The AWU’s Damian Hale said NT workers were “ready, willing and able” to fill construction jobs for onshore gas development if the moratorium was lifted.
“Stakeholders have been given an opportunity to contribute to the inquiry and we look forward to the findings of the Pepper Review,” Mr Hale told the NT New
Inpex said it would like to see such a project proceed, potentially sourcing gas from existing offshore reserves as well as new onshore prospects.
The onshore element would depend on the green light from the Pepper inquiry, expected to report before the end of the year.
The NT Government is keen on the new multi-billion-dollar LNG export facility because it would be likely to create thousands of construction jobs, hundreds of ongoing maintenance jobs and a lot of revenue for the NT Government (as the separate Inpex LNG project has and will).
The NT Government has committed $250,000 towards a study into the feasibility of adding a second production unit at the 3.6 million tonnes a year Darwin LNG plant.
The $625,000 study is also backed by a range of companies holding offshore gas fields, including Santos, Origin Energy and Shell.
Santos Managing Director Kevin Gallagher this week said the NT stood on the cusp of great development potential.
Addressing the South-East Asia and Australia Offshore and Onshore Conference (SEAAOC), Mr Gallagher said he firmly believed the Territory’s best days were ahead of it.
“The Northern Territory contains abundant, prospective gas resources that could be a game changer for East Coast gas supply, while bringing jobs and economic benefits to the region,” he said.
“In the longer term, we believe the NT could become Australia’s centre of excellence for onshore gas development and create a low cost energy advantage over the east coast that can attract new manufacturing operations to the region.”
And then came the unavoidable qualification:
“Of course this all depends on whether onshore gas development is allowed to go ahead!”
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner also addressed the SEAAOC conference, reaffirming his support for a vibrant resource-based sector in the NT.
He said any removal of a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing would only occur following a positive report by the Pepper inquiry and a strict set of operating guidelines to protect land and water.