Ninth Hydraulic Fracturing Implementation Progress Update
Issued 14 Dec 2021
Hydraulic Fracturing Implementation Progress Update May 2021 to Oct 2021
This progress update provides detail on the status of implementation from 1 May 2021 to 31 October 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 31 October 2021, 65 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.
- Water: water quality and quantity studies are underway, with field work and data collection to continue through to 2022.
- Terrestrial ecosystems: field work is well underway and includes the development of a fine-scale ecosystem map for the SREBA and the undertaking of targeted surveys for priority threatened species.
- Aquatic ecosystems: field work is underway with additional sites incorporated to ensure a more comprehensive geographic and sampling depth coverage across the study region. The stygofauna team have completed the first round of sampling with further field work for the aquatic studies to continue through to mid-2022.
- Environmental Health: the scope of works is under development with the Department of Health and CSIRO providing advice and guidance.
- Greenhouse gas: field work commenced mid-dry season 2021 with CSIRO undertaking on-ground sampling and further field work planned for this wet season and the dry season of 2022.
- Social Cultural and Economic: Stage One studies are underway with the design of the scope of works recommencing in May 2021. The first University of Queensland visit on Country was undertaken in August 2021 (delayed due to Covid-19) with the final scope of works scheduled for completion by the end of 2021 pending approval by an accredited Human Research Ethics Committee.
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 fourth meeting was held on 16 November 2021 for the Reference Group to discuss presentations on the social, cultural and economic studies; the environmental health studies; and the methane and greenhouse gas studies and receive progress updates on all the studies.
Regulation and Assessment
Agencies continue to regulate the onshore petroleum activities while progressing recommendations of the Final Report. A total of 22 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.
The Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security (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. Ten reports were published on the DEPWS website in 2021. 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 (DITT) 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.
Applying the ‘water trigger’ to onshore shale gas development (Recommendation 7.3)
The NT Government provided a submission to the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) reiterating it’s expectation that the Commonwealth will include a response to Recommendation 7.3 of the Inquiry. The review recommended that the ‘water trigger’ be amended to apply only to cross-border water resources. It did not recommend that the water trigger be expanded to onshore shale has activities and the Commonwealth Government has made no commitment to do so. The NT Government has made several attempts to advocate for Recommendation 7.3 to be addressed with the Commonwealth and whilst the NT Government will continue to advocate with this regard, any further progress is ultimately the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government.
Emissions (Recommendation 9.8)
The NT Government has taken significant action to implement Recommendation 9.8 within the sphere of its control. These actions include:
- reformed legislation to ensure greenhouse gas emissions can be regulated under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016 and the Environment Protection Act 2019;
- requiring the petroleum industry to comply with a Code of Practice that establishes minimum standards for monitoring and managing emissions from upstream infrastructure;
- released the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management for New and Expanding Large Emitters policy to set expectations for the management of emissions from development projects, including the onshore petroleum industry;
- established a Northern Territory Offsets Framework and developing a policy on greenhouse gas offsets;
- establishing a land based abatement program to grow the local carbon industry and increase the generation of carbon credits in the Territory;
- collaborating with industry and the Commonwealth Government to progress carbon capture, use and storage technology in the Territory, and
- investigating options to reduce emissions from flaring during production.
The Large Emitters Policy and Emissions Offsets Policy will apply to all development projects, including onshore petroleum activities. They are being developed well in advance of onshore petroleum production.
These actions are in addition to the net zero target Government and many industry members have set and the commitments being made to achieve those targets.
Work continues to assess further options available to deliver on this Recommendation and in negotiating an energy and emissions bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth Government.
Petroleum Act 1984 amendments
The Petroleum Act 1984 requires further amendments by DITT in 2022 to complete outstanding Inquiry recommendations, to include, but not limited to:
- a financial assurance framework developed and legislated for bonds and securities (Recommendation 14.13). A non-refundable levy for the long term-monitoring, management and remediation of abandoned wells (Recommendation 14.14);
- merits review for decisions under the petroleum legislation with third party standing (Recommendation 14.24);
- amendment of costs rules (Recommendation 14.25). This will confirm in the Petroleum Act 1984 Northern Territory courts to not make an order for the payment of costs against an unsuccessful public interest litigant;
- review of the criminal penalties and offences under the Petroleum Act 1984 and Regulations (Recommendation 14.33). Enactment of a broader range of powers to sanction to include but not limited to remediation and rehabilitation orders, enforceable undertakings, injunctions and civil penalties (Recommendations 14.29 and 14.31).
Environment Protection Act 2019 amendments
Further amendments to the Environment Protection Act 2019 are also required to address a number of outstanding Inquiry recommendations, including the introduction of an environmental chain of responsibility framework for gas companies and related parties to ensure compliance with environmental obligations.
Completing implementation of Inquiry recommendations
The NT Government has made significant progress by implementing 65 of the Inquiry’s recommendations. Government must complete an additional 73 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.
Information Management and Community Engagement
Community Engagement and Social Responsibility
The Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet has negotiated a scope of works with CSIRO to deliver a Community Engagement and Information Program which includes a dedicated CSIRO officer, based within the Land and Water Division of the Berrimah Office to develop ongoing engagement materials and deliver the program in person across the Northern Territory. Finalisation of a five-year funding agreement is imminent.
Aboriginal Information Program
In 2020, CSIRO worked collaboratively with land councils to develop initial fact sheets with 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.
The following fact sheets and frequently asked questions have been finalised and provided to the Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS) for scripting and interpretation:
- “about shale gas”;
- unearthing shale gas; and
- unearthing conventional gas.
It is intended the ongoing delivery of the Aboriginal Information Program will form part of the Community Engagement and Information Program contracted to CSIRO.
Independent Oversight of the Ninth Hydraulic Fracturing Implementation Progress Update
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 2022 to see out through implementation of remaining recommendations.
In his letter to the Chief Minister , 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.
To contact the Independent Officer, email Dr David Ritchie at email@example.com
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: hydraulicfracturing.nt.gov.au/contact or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org