Facts are the backbone of critical debate, rational decision-making, and thoughtful analysis. However, in an age of social media, reality television, and citizen journalism, facts often play second fiddle to emotion. Where facts are cold and hard, emotion is warm, engaging, and compelling. And when faced with a decision facts will often be muted by emotion and the passion that surrounds it.
Last week, the Northern Territory Government received the final report into the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory. Justice Rachel Pepper and her team should be commended for conducting a robust, independent, and scientific inquiry and review of the issues and opportunities surrounding an onshore gas industry in the Territory. There is no doubt this is a passionate and critical issue for both sides of the debate, and I will be the first to admit that the gas industry's efforts to make the case for further development of an onshore gas industry using the facts alone has often been drowned out by the strong campaign run by the opposite camp.
The challenge now is to take the emotion out of the debate and for the Territory Government to make a decision based solely on the facts. By commissioning the scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracturing the NT Government took a crucial first-step on this journey. It is now time to continue this by following the facts towards swift implementation of a well-regulated onshore gas industry.
Through the development and construction of Jemena's $800 million Northern Gas Pipeline (NGP) we've seen the beginnings of a skilled and passionate local workforce and industry develop. This workforce has the potential to grow into a thriving gas industry that calls the Territory home, lives in local communities and spends money with local businesses.
To do this Jemena is prepared to invest significantly more capital to extend and expand the NGP. This work is estimated to cost around $3 - $4 billion and could create around 4,000 new jobs across northern Australia. This is in addition to the more than 300 local jobs the NGP has already created and contracts (worth over $22 million in the Territory alone) which have been awarded to local businesses.
These jobs will span the construction of the NGP’s extension and expansion, and will create a highly-skilled workforce which is capable of sustaining a thriving gas industry in the Territory over the long term. Moreover, these jobs will equip Territorians with transferable skills, which can be applied in a range of contexts and to related industries across the energy supply chain.
Only by acting now can the Territory maximise these opportunities.
Any delay to decision-making risks undermining the investment industry has already made in the Territory, with work, jobs, and contracts likely to be scaled back (or lost altogether if investors look for options in other states or overseas) until industry has the certainty it needs to bolster these investments. This coupled with the long-lead times associated with establishing a workforce and the infrastructure needed to support a gas industry means the Territory may miss capitalising on the current need for new gas supply in the east-coast gas market.
While a decision on onshore gas development may be delayed to provide time for a review of the relevant regulations, this should not prevent work - specifically, exploration and appraisal activity - from continuing under the current regulatory regime. This type of work has been occurring successfully in the Territory and other states under the existing Petroleum Act for a number of years, and there is no rational to move away from this approach.
By allowing this exploration to continue the Territory will simultaneously build its credentials as the heart of Australia’s gas industry, while allowing for a strengthened regulatory framework to manage large-scale commercial production to be developed. There is much precedent here already, and Territorians need to only look across the border to the work of the Gasfields Commission in Queensland to see how it is possible to establish a viable onshore gas industry, protect the environment, and create jobs for local communities.
Territorians are deeply passionate - about their land, the environment, their community, and each other. By acting now and taking all of the facts into account the Territory can maximise the opportunities which lie before it, while protecting the environment and investment in the sector.
With an industry and workforce ready at the helm, we urge the Territory Government to base its decision making on an analysis of the facts before them.
Managing Director, Jemena