What is fracking? Why are you doing it in the NT? We’ve put together some key info to help answer these types of questions in detail.
Q. What is fracking?
A. Fracking is a process that’s undertaken after a well is drilled to release natural gas trapped in dense rock deep underground. It involves pumping water mixed with sand and low concentrations of chemical additives under pressure to open tiny pathways in the rock and allow gas to flow into the well and be brought to the surface.
Origin’s exploration program includes drilling wells that target underground shale rock formations in the Beetaloo Basin that will require fracking.
Q. Why are you fracking in the Northern Territory?
A. Australia potentially has some of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas in the Beetaloo Basin. Natural gas will play an important role in supporting the growth in renewable energy, reducing emissions and ensuring reliability. Fracking has been undertaken safely in the Northern Territory for more than 40 years and our exploration in the Beetaloo Basin is a multi-year, nine-well project that started in mid-2014.
Q. Where is the Beetaloo Basin?
A. Origin’s exploration permit areas in the Beetaloo Basin are located approximately 600km south of Darwin. The permit area covers 18,500km2, and is east of Daly Waters in the north and Elliott in the south.
Our permits do not extend to Alawa Aboriginal Land and we are not exploring in or near the communities of Minyerri, Borroloola or in the Gulf Country.
Q. Do you have the permission of host Traditional Owners to explore and drill on their land?
A. Yes. Our host Traditional Owners support and consent to the work we are doing.
Every Aboriginal person is considered a Traditional Owner and we respect the deep connection they have to their land and sea. We work with the Northern Land Council to engage with the Traditional Owners who are the Native Title holders and who may speak legally and culturally for the areas within our exploration permits where activity is proposed. The Northern Land Council is the statutory body responsible for determining who the rightful Native Title holders are for Origin to consult and work with each year.
During the past 12 months, Origin has worked with the Northern Land Council and the Native Title holders to complete Sacred Site Clearance and Avoidance surveys, secured Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority certification for nine potential exploration locations, and has participated in seven on-country meetings with Native Title holder families.
Q. What about neighbouring communities?
A. Through the Northern Land Council, we seek invitations to speak directly with some communities outside of our permit areas to reassure them that our exploration will not impact their water or land. Origin can only meet those communities when invited to attend their land.
Q. Are you going to frack Mataranka Hot Springs, sacred sites or iconic Northern Territory destinations?
A. No. Mataranka is well outside our Beetaloo permit area, 150km to the north in an area where there’s no active gas exploration activity occurring. We will not frack the Northern Territory’s iconic landscapes, waterways and tourism spots.
Q. What is “liquids-rich gas”? Are you looking for oil?
A. Our exploration activities in the Beetaloo Basin are focused on gas. The term “liquids-rich” refers to some gasses that can become a liquid as underground pressure and temperature changes as they come to the surface. A simple analogy would be a hot shower: the steam (gas) condenses to water (liquids) as it cools. These are the LPG and fuel gasses (propane, butane and light condensates).
Q. Won’t fracking harm scarce underground water resources?
A. Fracking has been undertaken safely in the Northern Territory for more than 40 years. The independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory concluded that the risks identified with fracking could be mitigated or reduced to an acceptable level, and in some cases eliminated.
Both engineered and natural geological barriers isolate and protect underground water sources. Multiple controls are put in place and if they are not met, we do not frack.
To protect the aquifers, multiple layers of steel and cement separate the producing part of the well from underground layers of rock and water and prevent deterioration over time. In addition, there is at least 1 km of impermeable rock between the shales that will be fracked, and the nearest aquifer.
Groundwater monitoring, put in place before our current exploration activities commenced, has found no evidence of impacts from current exploration activities.
Q. Will fracking wells contaminate groundwater recharge zones near Mataranka?
A. No. Aside from the stringent controls we have in place to manage any risk of groundwater contamination, groundwater in this area travels south to north at a rate of just metres per year and would take tens of thousands of years to reach Mataranka.
Q. Does fracking use dangerous chemicals?
A. Fracking uses a mix of 98 per cent water and sand, with a small percentage of additives that are also found in everyday items we use around the house. Like these household items, they are equally as safe in the concentrations that we use them in.
Q. Does fracking contribute to global emissions?
A. No. In fact, natural gas from the Northern Territory could play an important role in helping to reduce the world’s reliance on high emissions coal in countries such as China and India. At the same time, it will play an important role in supporting Australia’s transition to renewable energy while maintaining reliability and affordability.
Q. Will there be thousands of wells drilled across the Northern Territory?
A. Our future large-scale development scenario, presented in our submission to the Northern Territory’s Scientific Inquiry, aims to minimise disruption to pastoral operations through technology that allows multiple wells to be drilled underground from a single pad on the surface, with development occurring on a handful of pastoral leases and taking up no more than 2 per cent of a 500km2 area of land.