The Guardian • Issue #2064


Nothing clean about fracking

Over 900 health professionals from across the country have signed a joint letter speaking out against fracking the Beetaloo Basin and the Middle Arm gas hub in the Northern Territory. The fracking is dangerous to health and would add to greenhouse gas emissions at a time when there is an urgent necessity to reduce them. They are calling for a halt to polluters like Santos and Tamboran Resources unleashing massive new gas projects. The Beetaloo Sub Basin covers 28,000 square kilometres and is estimated to contain 14 trillion cubic meters of gas.

The letter states: “The proposal to frack shale gas in the Beetaloo Basin and construct a gas processing hub at the Middle Arm Precinct in the centre of Darwin Harbour poses serious threats to the health and wellbeing of our children and our communities, both in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia. These serious health risks arise due to the direct impacts of fracking and the exacerbation of climate change. … Air pollution can disperse widely from gas operations and contains multiple noxious substances including ground level ozone which is harmful to humans, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that is associated with increased asthma exacerbations, heart attacks, chronic lung disease, cancers and death rates.”

In May, following the NT government’s announcement that fracking in the Beetaloo Basin could go ahead, close to 100 scientists also published an open letter to the government urging it to abandon plans for fracking in the Beetaloo Basin, warning of “the damage it will inflict on our climate.” One of the signatories, UNSW Professor Matthew England, who specialises in oceans and the impacts of global warming, said “Australia has been suffering severe bushfire seasons, intense flooding rains, we’re seeing our coral reefs die off before our eyes – all of these events are costing the Australian economy hugely.”

The project has the potential to increase Australia’s total CO2 emissions by 20 per cent leaving Australia unable to meet its already inadequate emission reduction targets. This enormous increase in greenhouse gases will fuel global warming as well as have a serious impact on health. Northern Australia is particularly vulnerable to temperature rises and is at risk of becoming uninhabitable in coming decades.

According to the Northern Territory government: “Globally significant gas reserves in the Beetaloo Sub-basin could propel advanced manufacturing, domestic supply security and cleaner energy production in Australia, while accelerating multibillion dollar growth in the Territory economy, with long-term global gas supply potentials of international significance.” There is nothing clean, let alone “cleaner” about fracking!

One of the arguments being used to justify the fracking is to meet the needs for domestic gas use on the east coast of Australia. The government could achieve this objective by imposing caps on exports to ensure adequate domestic supply until gas is phased out. The fossil fuel companies argue that the additional greenhouse gas emissions can be offset by such means as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or the development of geoengineering projects at some time in the future. These are not only extremely costly, some are known to be harmful to the earth’s ecosystems while being unproven on an industrial scale. Orca in Iceland is the largest CCS project in the world. It cost almost $30 billion and captures 4000 tonnes per annum – around half the emissions of Bill Gates’ private jet.

There is only one way to tackle climate change: No new fossil fuel projects; no expansion of existing projects; phase out the use of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. Plan and fund the just transition to renewables.

Write to PM Anthony Albanese and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek calling on them to block the Beetaloo Basin project and demanding the immediate phasing out of fossil fuels.

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