No new hydraulic fracturing for exploration or extraction will be approved in the Northern Territory from 14 September 2016, in line with Labor's election commitments, and the future of fracking will be determined by an independent scientific inquiry, with the draft Terms of Reference now open for public consultation until Thursday, 13 October 2016.

The NT's fracking moratorium

The terms of the moratorium are:

  • hydraulic fracturing of onshore unconventional reservoirs will not be approved across in the Northern Territory until the Government has considered the outcomes of an independent inquiry;
  • it applies to the whole of the Northern Territory;
  • it applies to hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs, as well as the use of Diagnostic Fracture Injection Testing;
  • it applies to hydraulic fracturing under any permit or licence, which means that fracking will not be approved whether it is for exploration or extraction; and
  • it is not retrospective, which means that it does not apply to existing approvals.

Inquiry Terms of Reference

The Inquiry and its expert panel will investigate the potential risks and impacts of using hydraulic fracturing in the exploration and production of unconventional onshore oil and gas reservoirs.

Under the draft Terms of Reference, which are now available for public consultation, the Panel is to:

  • Provide advice on whether hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs can be safely and effectively undertaken under best-practice conditions, without adverse impacts on environmental, social and economic values of the Northern Territory.
  • Assess the scientific evidence to determine the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs on:
    • Aquifers (groundwater)
    • Surface water
    • Geology
    • Land and terrestrial ecosystems
    • Ecotoxicology
    • Human health, particularly with respect to the use and regulation of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs processes
    • Current and future land uses (eg. pastoral production)
    • Emissions (eg. fugitive emissions)
  • Identify any additional, industry-specific regulatory requirements necessary to complement the reforms already being implemented through the existing environmental reform process to ensure the Northern Territory meets best-practice standards in relation to hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs.
  • Assess the effectiveness of common mitigation and rehabilitation methods used throughout the hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs processes.
  • Advise on research priorities to improve on the current base of scientific understanding and assist the Government’s need for further evidence to inform decision-making.

The Panel has also been told to consider the following matters when providing its advice:

  • The aim of the Government to ensure the safety and security of environmental, social and economic values.
  • The adequacy of research and monitoring and reporting studies.
  • The potential of long-term cumulative impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs.
  • The questions and concerns that have been raised by the community, which will then shape the research, data and evidence examined by the panel.

Making submissions and the future of fracking regulation in the Northern Territory

Submissions can be made online on the Government's website.

Once the Terms of Reference have been finalised, an expert panel, which will include individuals with expertise in geology, ecology / natural resource management, hydrology, hydrogeology, ecotoxicology, geochemistry, environmental regulation and onshore oil and gas industry, will be appointed.

It is understood that once the Panel commences its Inquiry, it will consult with the community throughout the Inquiry, including through public meetings and consultation sessions in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and other regional communities.

It has also been announced that a Hydraulic Fracturing Taskforce will be set up in the Department of the Chief Minister to support the Inquiry Panel and its public consultations, and to report regularly to Cabinet.