Community Bulletin #42

Issued 19 Jul 2021

Hydraulic Fracturing Implementation Progress Update Nov 2020 to Apr 2021

This progress update provides detail on the status of implementation from 1 November 2020 to 30 April 2021. There are 135 recommendations in total, however three of the recommendations were separated at the time of implementation planning, resulting in a total of 138 recommendations to be reported on.

As at 30 April 2021, 64 of the 138 total recommendations were fully completed. Updates to the implementation status of individual recommendations can be found by clicking on the relevant recommendations.

Highlights from the progress achieved in the six month reporting period and next steps align to the following four key areas of implementation and reform and are summarised below:

  • The Strategic Regional Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA) for the Beetaloo Sub-Basin
  • Regulation and Assessment
  • Completing implementation of the Inquiry recommendations
  • Information management and community engagement.
  • The SREBA is a set of studies to address knowledge gaps and establish appropriate baselines against which the potential impacts of proposed onshore gas activities may be assessed.

    The SREBA consists of six study domains: water quality and quantity; aquatic ecosystems; terrestrial ecosystems; methane and greenhouse gas; environmental health; and social, cultural and economic.

    To guide these studies, the Framework for Strategic Regional and Environmental Baseline Assessment: A guide to undertaking a SREBA in the Northern Territory was released in July 2020 following public consultation, briefings and seeking further feedback to inform the final framework.

    The Department of Environment, Parks, and Water Security (DEPWS) is responsible for the coordination of all six SREBA studies and the delivery of the five studies relating to the biophysical environment and environmental health. The Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet (CM&C) is responsible for delivery of the sixth study relating to the social, cultural and economic domain. All six studies have commenced and are at different stages of development.

    Study updates:

    1. Water: scope of work is completed and ready for approval by the Minister for Environment, field work is expected to commence mid-dry season 2021.
    2. Terrestrial ecosystems: scope of work has been approved by the Minister for Environment and field work commenced in May 2021.
    3. Aquatic ecosystems: scope of work is completed and ready for approval by the Minister for Environment, field work is expected to commence mid-dry season 2021.
    4. Environmental Health: tender awarded and scope of work being drafted by consultant, due for completion early June 2021.
    5. Greenhouse gas: scope of work is completed and ready for approval by the Minister for Environment, field work is expected to commence mid-dry season 2021.
    6. Social Cultural and Economic: initial contract ceased due to issues in delivery of the Scope of Works and Stage One. A new contract has been recently awarded to the University of Queensland with the scope of works recommencing in May 2021. Sufficient budget and time contingency are available to ensure delivery remains on track.

    The studies and collection of data for the Beetaloo Sub-Basin SREBA as a whole, aim to be developed and finalised by December 2022.

    Beetaloo Regional Reference Group

    The Beetaloo Regional Reference Group (the Reference Group) is a community consultative forum for the SREBA studies within the Beetaloo Region. The initial Reference Group meeting was held online to deal with administrative issues and introductions. The second meeting was held in Katherine on 23 March 2021 where the Reference Group was briefed on the planning for the Terrestrial, Water and Aquatic studies by the research teams. The next meeting is scheduled for 29 June 2021.

  • Agencies continue to regulate the onshore petroleum activities while progressing recommendations of the Final Report. A total of 19 Environment Management Plans have been approved under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016 since the responsibility for environmental regulation was transferred to the Minister for Environment.

    DEPWS compliance activities are ongoing and include the review and publication of monitoring reports and periodic inspection of well sites. In the interest of transparency, interest holders are required to submit Annual Environment Performance Reports detailing compliance with environmental obligations made in the Environment Management Plan. Eight reports were published on the website in 2020. DEPWS is also implementing recommendations from an informal review that sought feedback from other agencies and industry, with a view to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental regulation.

    The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade continues its regulatory responsibilities related to well integrity, hydraulic fracturing and well operations including monitoring, compliance and site inspections. Regulation of tenure responsibilities including company work programs, title administration, land access agreements and declaration of reserve blocks, also remains a key function and responsibility of the agency.

    Emissions (Recommendation 9.8)

    The NT Government is working with the Commonwealth Government on negotiating a  Bilateral Agreement which focuses on a number of priorities with respect to energy and emissions reduction, including efforts to assist in meeting Recommendation 9.8: That the NT and Australian governments seek to ensure that there is no net increase in the life cycle GHG emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT.

    Petroleum Act 1984 amendments

    Amendments to the Petroleum Act 1984 commenced in June 2020 and allowed for regulations to be made in relation to land access.

    Government consulted with affected stakeholders on the draft Petroleum Regulations, which detailed the requirements of statutory land access agreements in June 2020. These draft regulations were further amended and commenced on 1 January 2021. Petroleum companies will now require a land access agreement with the minimum 24 protections before being able to undertake regulated petroleum exploration activities on a pastoral lease.

    The Petroleum Act 1984 will require further amendments in 2021 to complete numerous outstanding Inquiry recommendations, which include, but are not limited to:

    • merits review for decisions under the petroleum legislation with third party standing;
    • a non-refundable levy for the long term-monitoring, management and remediation of abandoned wells;
    • development of a financial assurance framework for petroleum operators; and
    • a broader range of powers to sanction under the legislation.
  • The NT Government has made significant progress by implementing 64 of the Inquiry’s recommendations. Government must complete an additional 74 recommendations before it can consider industry applications for production activities of shale (unconventional) reservoirs. This requires a significant amount of research, policy development, regulatory development and changes to legislation, supported by significant stakeholder and community engagement.

    In addition to the status of priorities already covered in this Memorandum under the specific sections of (1) SREBA, (2) Regulation and Assessment and (4) Information management and community engagement, a number of other implementation priorities are the focus for 2021.

    Cost Recovery

    Discussion papers for consultation on the proposed cost recovery system are being prepared by the Department of Treasury and Finance. Consultation with industry and key stakeholders is expected in the second half of 2021, and will inform the final system.

    Maximising Regional Benefits and Local Opportunities

    The Northern Territory’s Gas Service and Supply Plan was released in March 2020 and the Onshore Gas Supply Chain Working Group established in July 2020 to coordinate industry efforts to maximise regional benefits and local opportunities. The Working Group has continued, through its ongoing meetings, to focus on industry to strengthen self-reporting on NT contract spend and proportion of local content.

    These efforts are supported by various funding and assistance schemes, such as the  Aboriginal Workforce Grants, the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme, and the Start, Run and Grow Business Initiative.

  • Online portal

    An online portal for public access to information and data on onshore petroleum activities, including approvals and compliance reports, has been established. The online portal went live in February 2021. The portal contributes to Government’s commitment to ensuring transparency in the development and regulation of the onshore petroleum industry.

    Community Engagement and Social Responsibility

    A direct procurement process for an independent community engagement program is being progressed with CSIRO, noting the scope will include the following key considerations:

    • continuity of local presence is critical;
    • an eminent researcher who is attached to a trusted and reputable institution;
    • a demonstrated and effective communicator; and
    • an individual/team who understands the industry and the cause.

    The objective of this work program is to have an independent, scientific and objective institution deliver information to all interested parties, through ongoing and regular  face-to-face engagement with the community about onshore unconventional gas in the  Northern Territory.

    Aboriginal Information Program

    An Aboriginal Information Program Working Group (the Group) was formed in late 2019, with members from the NT Government, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), Northern and Central Land Councils, industry representatives and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. The Group agreed to coordinate the development of an Aboriginal information package in two stages.

    As part of Stage One, a Scope of Works was developed by CSIRO and approved by the Group in March 2020. This work consists of CSIRO delivering a package of information that is:

    "clear, factual and relevant content for communication material to distribute to communities potentially affected by shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory, particularly for translation into languages of local Aboriginal communities."

    While delivery of this project has been delayed, Group members, particularly Land Councils and AAPA, continue to be engaged and supportive of the approach being taken to ensure delivery of the project achieves the desired intent.

    The initial fact sheet regarding the topic of Water has been provided to the Aboriginal Interpreter Service for scripting and interpretation.

    CM&C is working closely with CSIRO and the Land Councils to engage a dedicated CSIRO officer to develop ongoing engagement materials and deliver the program in person across the Northern Territory. It is intended this work will also incorporate the delivery of the ongoing Aboriginal Information Program.

Independent Oversight of the Hydraulic Fracturing Implementation Progress update Nov 2020 to Apr 2021

The role of the Independent Overseer is to provide the Chief Minister and NT Government with independent advice on how the implementation of the recommendations from the Inquiry is progressing and being managed. The nature of this role requires the Independent Officer to remain at arms-length from day-to-day decisions and processes relating to implementation.

The Chief Minister approved the extension of Dr Ritchie’s term as Independent Overseer until 31 December 2021 to see out implementation of Hydraulic Fracturing Inquiry recommendations.

Dr David Ritchie, has provided comment on the progress of implementation outlined in the latest six-monthly update.

Overall, Dr Ritchie found that implementation continues satisfactorily in accordance with the findings of the Inquiry.

Read Dr Ritchie’s full advice here PDF (213.0 KB)

To contact the Independent Officer, email Dr David Ritchie at independent.oversight@nt.gov.au

What’s next?

The NT Government is progressing from stage two to stage three of the Implementation Plan for most Hydraulic Fracturing Inquiry recommendations. Stage three recommendations are mostly larger projects that are anticipated to be delivered by December 2022. Progress updates will be announced through six-monthly community bulletins as Stage 3 of the Implementation Plan continues.

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 recommendations, sign up for regular updates on the website: www.hydraulicfracturing.nt.gov.au by email: hydraulic.fracturing@nt.gov.au