Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
NT pastoralist fights gas fracker access

The Northern Territory Supreme Court is hearing a cattle station owner’s appeal against a decision giving a gas explorer access to its Beetaloo Basin property.

June 20, 2022

A pastoralist is attempting to overturn a court order granting a gas fracking company access to a Northern Territory cattle station, saying it’s causing “havoc” on the property.

Tamboran Resources subsidiary Sweetpea Petroleum previously won the legal right to explore parts of Rallen Australia’s Tanumbirini station in the gas-rich Beetaloo Basin.

It started work clearing land, sinking bores and building roads in May on the 5000sq km property, 600km southeast of Darwin.

Rallen is appealing the access decision in the Supreme Court in Darwin. It’s also filed an application to stop work during the court case.

“Sweetpea’s operations are already causing havoc. They have cut our fences, bulldozed access routes and flouted their own plans for protecting our stock,” Rallen co-director Pierre Langenhoven said on Monday.

“In backing this controversial industry, the government risks wrecking the NT’s water and the cattle industry, which has long been the economic backbone of the NT.”

Rallen has eight potential grounds of appeal, including an argument that the access agreement imposes lesser standards on Sweetpea than the minimum protections required under NT law.

The NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision to allow access also failed to provide sufficient protection for the water infrastructure on Tanumbirini station which could put livestock at risk, Rallen said.

“We’ve had three years of Santos, Origin and Tamboran on our station and we’re seeing that if the full development occurs into production that fracking and cattle don’t mix,” Rallen co-director Luciana Ravazzotti said.

“The government is doing nothing to ensure companies comply with regulations.”

Rallen said Sweetpea is the first gas explorer to force its way onto a cattle station since the NT rolled out amended petroleum regulations in 2021 requiring parties to reach a land access agreement before operations started.

The pastoralist leases 1.1 million hectares of land on six stations in the NT with 70,000 head of Brahman cattle. It has spent $200 million in the past four years developing the properties.

The stations are Tanumbirini, Kalala, Big River, Larizone, Mt McMinn and Forrest Hill.

Tamboran has a permit for exploratory fracking that covers parts of Tanumbirini and the neighbouring Beetaloo station.

The company has previously said it will continue to defend its legal right to work on the station that it’s had a permit to explore for more than a decade.

It said the approved access agreement was issued according to the fair processes laid out in the NT’s new Petroleum Regulation.

The company says it continues to work closely with all stakeholders, including pastoral leaseholders and the Northern Land Council.

It has also committed to minimise any risks associated with the onshore shale gas industry highlighted in a 2018 inquiry.

The Beetaloo is one of a number of gas fields the previous Morrison government planned to develop to help boost the economy and secure Australia’s energy supply.

It caused concern among many in the territory, who fear it could jeopardise efforts to meet the nation’s emissions reduction target and contaminate groundwater in a series of linked aquifers.

The federal government granted Tamboran $7.5 million earlier this year under a program subsidising exploration. The company later failed to appear at a federal Senate inquiry into the funding program.

About 90 per cent of the NT’s water supply comes from groundwater.

Tamboran Resources has been contacted for comment.

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