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Issue #1801      November 1, 2017

Disgust and concern over fracking inquiry

Mudburra/Garawa custodian Eleanor Dixon believes no one is listening to Aboriginal people’s voices at a Northern Territory inquiry into the controversial mining practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), where toxic chemicals are blasted into rock seams to fracture rock and release gas.

Dixon told the Koori Mail a consultant supposed to be running a community social impact meeting for the inquiry told residents that fracking was inevitable and the community needed to prepare for it and to consider asking for benefits such as community housing.

In September last year the NT government declared a temporary moratorium on fracking. In December it set up an inquiry to investigate the environmental, social and economic risks and impacts of fracking, chaired by Justice Rachel Pepper.

The inquiry has been holding a series of meetings in remote areas, but some traditional owners are worried about the behaviour of the consulting group employed to conduct social impact assessments.

Dixon said the social impact consultations so far had been “disgusting”.

She attended a community consultation meeting in Elliott in August and said it felt like an “unfair conversation”.

“We didn’t get to chance to talk and say what we wanted to say,” she said. “We wanted to talk about the risks and concerns of gas mining, but the consultant did most of the talking and pushed us to think about ways for us to use it for our benefit

“Our number-one priority was about risks to land, environment and people, and that hasn’t been heard throughout conversation.”

Recorded

Dixon said she recorded a 36-minute conversation in Elliott with the lead consultant from Cross Cultural Consulting (CCC), Jason Elsegood, because she didn’t trust that the consultants would accurately report community concerns.

“I submitted the recording to the judge in charge of the inquiry after the Elliott meeting and she said she’d listen to it and get back to me about it,” she said. “When she didn’t get back to me, we gave the recording to the ABC and they reported on it.

“I feel like no one is listening to us, not even the inquiry panel.”

The inquiry panel finally responded on October 7, after the ABC report was broadcast. In the. response, Justice Pepper reported “profound dismay and concern” over the comments made by CCC and rejected the comments saying the “opinions and comments expressed by that person in no way reflect the views of the Inquiry”.

Originally, the inquiry engaged consulting company Coffey to run the community consultations. Coffey subcontracted the social impact assessment work to CCC.

The inquiry reported it had requested that Coffey review the work of CCC – which could delay the completion of the social impact assessment report – but said “the inquiry is nevertheless progressing the draft final report for release in early November, with the final report to be completed by the end of 2017”.

Territory Frack-Free Alliance spokesperson Lauren Mellor said she had spoken to CCC before its consultants went into the remote communities to see if they had a set list of questions for residents.

“They said they didn’t have any,” Mellor said. “Without a clearly defined consultation model, there’s no way they can measure opinions and be held accountable for a fair consultation process.”

Mellor said the whole process was rushed.

“The consultants had 10 days to cover a lot of remote communities and didn’t even have time to organise permits to enter some,” she said. “A number of other communities including Borroloola, Ngukurr and Mataranka have also made records and complaints.”

Some of the complaints included that consultants had not explained gas field development scenarios, including the number of gas wells planned, or possible social risks from increased industrial and mining activity on remote communities.

Mellor also said the Ngukurr News had reported Coffey consultants “gave no warning before they came, used the majority of the consultation to provide personal opinions and failed to ask respondents their attitudes to fracking”.

The Territory Frack-Free Alliance is now calling for the inquiry to restore trust and integrity to the process and cancel Coffey’s contract, re-tender the work and re-design the consultation process,” she said.

Questions

In answer to questions sent by the Koori Mail, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s office said “an open and transparent approach is needed into the genuine environmental concerns held by many Territorians”.

“At the end of that inquiry we will either ban tracking in the Northern Territory or allow it in highly regulated circumstances in tightly prescribed areas. We will put the Territory first and make the best decision for the Territory – and we will not put at risk existing fishing, farming, tourism and cattle jobs for the possibility of jobs from fracking.”

Dixon has recently been arranging rallies and strategy meetings of a coalition of Aboriginal groups. “I knew I had to call together the different language groups for a rally in Elliott and to talk about the risk of contaminating the underground water system and the songlines that connect us all,” she said.

The community of Elliott is situated within the Beetaloo sub-basin – an area spanning about one-third of the NT – which has been widely targeted for gas field development by Australia’s largest gas companies including Origin Energy and Santos.

People from communities in the area are concerned that fracking will deplete the semi-arid region’s underground water supplies and spread chemical contaminants during wet season floods.

At the Elliott rally, Ms Dixon called for the NT government to put a permanent ban on fracking gas fields despite pressure from the Federal government to abandon its fracking moratorium and inquiry.

“There are plans for thousands of fracked gas wells to be drilled across our homelands, and through our underground water,” she said. “This would risk everything we value here in one short-sighted and greedy move by the fracking companies.”

Koori Mail

Next article – An abuse of power

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