Pastoralists and traditional owners in fear of fracking

·3-min read
Aaron Bunch/AAP PHOTOS

Traditional owners and a cattle station company are alarmed at the environmental threat of fracking on their land after the Northern Territory government lifted its moratorium on the controversial practice.

Tamboran Resources, through its subsidiary Sweetpea Petroleum, is exploring for gas on Tanumbirini cattle station in the Beetaloo Basin, owned by cattle company Rallen Australia.

On Monday, ABC's 7.30 detailed pollution incidents from one exploration well at the NT station, known as Maverick 1.

The company reported using drill wastewater to manage dust in October and the failure of a bund wall in November, to the NT government.

Rallen claims Sweetpea also pumped contaminated wastewater, containing heavy metals including lead, as well as barium, which is toxic to people, stock, wildlife and the environment, into a cattle breeding paddock.

The mining company denies causing any environmental harm.

Traditional owners from the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation have expressed their dismay at risks to their country and, in particular, the sacred Newcastle Creek that runs across the Beetaloo Basin and has sites protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act.

Djingili Elder and cultural advisor to Nurrdalinji Janet Sandy Gregory, whose country is Marlinja, north of Newcastle Waters, said they want the government to take action.

"When I heard about what Tamboran had done, polluting our country, our water, I felt my spirit was broken - my heart was breaking," she said.

"I worry about the country, I worry about the children, I worry about the future and what it's going to hold for my family and my people.

"This shows us once again why we do not want fracking which will poison our water, our animals and upset the songlines that run across our country."

Rallen Australia director Pierre Langenhoven said he was worried that at its first exploration well, Tamboran's activities put workers, cattle and Newcastle Creek at risk of pollution.

"What we're seeing on the ground is that fracking and cattle operations can't co-exist," he said.

"Neither Tamboran nor the NT government informed us about these incidents.

"We found out through our own investigations.

"We've had to push to get any kind of government response and when we requested test results we were told we couldn't have them."

Mr Langenhoven said the NT government appeared to rely on the word of companies, without doing its own checks and investigations.

"The $6500 penalty that ABC 7.30 reports Tamboran received for the dust suppression incident when compared to the scale and cost of its operations, is unlikely to deter future similar actions," he said.

"If this is exploration, we can only imagine what chaos the cattle industry will face if 6000 of these fracking wells are drilled across the Beetaloo Basin."

Nurrdalinji chair Johnny Wilson said the reports reflected what traditional owners feared about mining on their country.

"That fracking will damage our water, country and songlines, which mean absolutely everything to us and were passed down for us to care for," he said.

"This is my grandfather's country which I have a responsibility to look after.

"It tears at my heart to imagine how fracking by Tamboran might be damaging what I have been asked to protect."