A plan for implementing the recommendations from the Final Report of The Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing (Final Report) was released on 17 July 2018. This document provides a summary on the status of implementing the recommendations as at end of September 2018 for Stage 1 and Stage 2 as identified in the Implementation Plan.

The hydraulic fracturing website provides details on each recommendation and tracking of progress of implementation.

A staged approach to implementation of recommendations is necessary because the Final Report recommended that 31 recommendations be fully implemented before any further exploration approvals could be granted. These 31 recommendations are summarised in Table 16.1 of the Final Report and are assigned to Stage Two. There are also recommendations that will take a number of years to complete and need to be fully implemented before any production approvals are granted, and these are assigned to Stage Three.

What’s happened so far?

We are now three months into implementation of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing recommendations.  While implementation of over half of the recommendations has started the focus of the last quarter has been on Stage two and in particular table 16.1 of the Final Report.

See progress on:

The Hydraulic Fracturing Inquiry Implementation Taskforce within the Department of the Chief Minister, as per recommendation 16.3 of the Final Report, is coordinating the implementation of the Inquiry recommendations guided by a Steering Committee of NT Government Chief Executives of key agencies responsible for delivery of recommendations.

The Onshore Shale Gas Community and Business Reference Group has been established with 17 members to provide feedback to Government on the development of the implementation framework and its subsequent execution.  The first meeting was held early July and the second meeting in mid-October.  Communiques of the meetings are available on the website.

The Independent Officer, Dr Ritchie, has been appointed under the Inquiries Act to provide independent assessment on implementation of the recommendations to the Chief Minister. Dr Ritchie has powers to seek information and has been briefed regularly by the Taskforce and NT Government agencies on the work being undertaken to implement the recommendations. As a panel member of the Inquiry, Dr Ritchie brings valuable insight and advice to Government as to how well implementation is progressing. Dr Ritchie’s assessments of implementation progress are available on the website.

The Hydraulic Fracturing website is providing an online information platform for all recommendations and associated projects. Regular community bulletins have been distributed for all who have registered for updates through the website.

NT Government agencies have been communicating regularly with industry stakeholders on the implementation of the recommendations.  Briefings have also been provided to gas companies who hold exploration permits to provide information on the scope of the regulatory reforms being undertaken.

In developing the Implementation Plan each recommendation was grouped into one of six reform areas and grouped into three delivery timeframes:

  • Stage One – Planning, completed at the end of July 2018;
  • Stage Two – Preparing for exploration, with a target completion date of December 2018; and
  • Stage Three – Exploration and Preparing for Production, with a target completion of December 2021.

Strengthening Regulation

The process has commenced to amend the government’s Administrative Arrangement Orders that will transfer the authority for the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations from the Minister for Primary Industry and Resources to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.  This will address Recommendation 14.34 and will ensure clear separation between the agency with responsibility for regulating the environmental impacts and risks associated with onshore shale gas industry and the agency responsible for promoting the industry.  This change will happen early in the New Year and will be in place before any drilling and hydraulic fracturing approvals are granted.

Amendments to the NT Environment Protection Authority Act were introduced to the Legislative Assembly in August 2018 to enable appointment of additional members with onshore gas experience to the NTEPA, as well as provide for the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources to require the NTEPA to provide advice regarding the assessment of Environmental Management Plans. These proposed amendments were referred to the Social Policy Scrutiny Committee, a public briefing was held on 10 September, and submissions closed on 19 September.

Drafting has commenced to amend the Petroleum Act to: establish open standing provisions for judicial and merits review; ensure fit and proper person tests occur when issuing exploration permits and production licences; affirm Environmental Management Plans as authorising documents and ensure enforceability of Codes of Practice through the legislation.

The drafting process has also commenced to amend the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations to address: publishing all notices and reports of environmental incidents; allowing for consideration of cumulative impacts; ensuring public comment period for drilling and hydraulic fracturing approvals; prescribed time limits and publication of reasons.

These amendment bills will be introduced and considered by the Legislative Assembly over the coming months.   The regulatory changes will be in place before any drilling and hydraulic fracturing approvals are granted.

Ensuring Accountable Industry Practice

A number of recommendations involve the implementation of transparent, enforceable, prescriptive Codes of Practice to support the Petroleum legislation.

The CSIRO have been engaged to manage technical working groups to develop Codes of Practice. The draft Codes of Practice will be peer reviewed by a third party and released for public comment prior to finalisation.

The Codes of Practice are being developed to address well construction, integrity and decommissioning for hydraulic fracturing activities, monitoring and reporting methane emissions, management of chemicals as well as surface and field activities.  A waste water management framework is also being developed as a component of the Codes of Practice.

The government has begun working with other similar jurisdictions, industry and scientific experts to develop a compliance and monitoring strategy. An independent expert will review the strategy. The community and industry will have an opportunity to comment on the strategy.

The establishment of an Onshore Gas Hotline is underway to allow anonymous reporting of non-compliance within the onshore shale gas industry.

The comparative analysis, scoping and policy design has commenced on a cost-recovery framework with agreed principles, to enable the development of model options for consultation.

Over the next quarter the Codes of Practice and waste water and monitoring and compliance framework will be finalised in draft form so they can be released for public comment

Safeguarding Water and the Environment

The process has commenced to amend the Water Act to require gas companies to obtain water extraction licences under the Water Act. The Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 was introduced into the August 2018 sittings.  The Bill has been referred to the Economic Policy Scrutiny Committee for report by 27 November 2018.

Additional amendments to the Water Act are being drafted to prohibit surface water extraction and wastewater injection and consequential amendments identified through implementation of recommendations.

The Minister for Environment and Natural Resources has extended the Daly-Roper Water Control District to include the Beetaloo Sub-Basin which has been renamed the Daly Roper Beetaloo Water Control District. This extension will establish new water management rules for people wanting to access and use water in this new water control district area.

Guidelines and requirements regarding specific monitoring and reporting of the groundwater are currently being developed for consultation.

On ground work to investigate baseline methane emissions in the Beetaloo Sub-basin commenced in late July 2018 and will continue for a minimum of six months.

Government has partnered with CSIRO to establish a Northern Territory program under the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA)  which will review and approve research projects that address community concerns, issues and potential impacts as a result of onshore gas development in the Northern Territory.

Baseline weed assessments are required in all areas subject to exploration for gas, before exploration takes place. Work has begun to identify locations for exploration in the Beetaloo Sub-basin for weed surveys to be undertaken in those areas.  Guidelines have also been developed for holders of existing Exploration Permits in the Beetaloo Sub-basin to ensure weed management plans are consistent with statutory obligations

The design of the framework and methodologies for undertaking strategic regional and environmental baseline assessments (SREBA) that include social health and cultural data has commenced.

The SREBA framework will be the focus of the next reporting period.  The framework is being co-developed with CSIRO and independent academics.  The framework is being developed by seven technical expert working groups developing each of the guidance notes and supported by a project advisory committee (link to page).   The draft will be released for public comment in the New Year.

Respecting Community and Culture

Aboriginal communities and Traditional Owners will be involved in the design and development of cultural assessments as part of any SREBA.

Operators will require an Authority Certificate from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority as per the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act.

The Board of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has considered legal advice on the extent of protection to sub-surface sites provided by the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act.  The Authority will consult with relevant Land Councils to ensure they have an opportunity to comment.

The Aboriginal Interpreter Service has been engaged to interpret the Communiques from the  Onshore Shale Gas Community and Business Reference Group and progress updates into nine languages used for communications throughout the Inquiry.

Over coming months work will ramp up on an independently developed information program to ensure that reliable, accessible trusted and accurate information is effectively communicated to Aboriginal people who will be affected by any onshore shale gas industry

Maximising regional benefits and local opportunities

Whilst the recommendations in this reform group are scheduled for Stage 3 implementation early work has commenced.

The Government has developed a new Territory Benefit Policy to capture local benefits for Territorians for private sector projects.  The draft policy was released for public feedback in August 2018 and will be finalised after the period for public consultation ends in early October.

Work is being undertaken with the Northern Territory Industry Capability Network to map service and supply industry capabilities to understand the opportunities that will stem from industry growth.

Engagement has commenced with Universities for research and skills training opportunities.

Planning for Industry

Work has commenced on developing a policy to facilitate discussions with the Aboriginal Land Councils and the community on areas that can be declared reserved blocks or "no-go zones" under the Petroleum Act before any declaration of Reserved Blocks by the Minister.  It is intended the consultation will occur before the end of the year.

Want to find out more?

To find out about opportunities to engage in consultation or to keep up to date with status of implementation of each recommendation, sign up for regular updates on the plan for implementing the recommendations here

Email the taskforce at hydraulic.fracturing@nt.gov.au or phone +61 9 8999 6573.