Justice Rachel Pepper is chairing the Inquiry along with a panel of 10 scientists with expertise in water, geology, ecology, health, sociology and engineering. A background and issues paper released prior to the commencement of community consultations and hearings stated:
“Improvements have been made to the production of conventional gas and many of these techniques have been refined and applied to unconventional gas. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been used for decades on conventional reservoirs but better efficiency and accuracy has allowed this technology to be used in unconventional gas reservoirs making them economically viable.”
The Inquiry has completed the first stage of its hearings and community consultation sessions in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Darwin and Humpty Doo with remote community visits commencing this week in Nhulunbuy, Borroloola, Mataranka, Gapuwiyak, Ngukurr, Daly Waters, Mataranka, Timber Creek, Wadeye, Yuendumu and Hermannsburg with the final hearing expected to take place in Darwin on 3 June 2017.
If the initial hearings and consultations in key centres of the Northern Territory, Justice Pepper stated:
“Both the hearings and community meetings were very productive and well attended sessions. We had 37 individuals and organisations present at the formal hearings and over 600 people attend the community consultation sessions, where members of the panel facilitated round table discussions.”
“During the week, additional issues associated with hydraulic fracturing were identified to those contained in the Background and Issues Paper, as well as potential benefits.
“We will be taking on board all of the information and feedback gathered this week and the final list of issues will form the basis of the Inquiry's work going forward.”
Communities have been attending the meetings and showing a demonstrative aversion to hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory with the predominant argument being the protection of water and country.
Currently, shale gas fracking licenses and applications cover over 100 million hectares of the Territory, around 85% of the NT landmass and despite the Inquiry hearing from industry experts that there is no evidence of damage caused by hydraulic fracturing in the United States, since 2013, over 300 new peer reviewed scientific reports have been released internationally about the impacts of shale fracking. Studies have found drilling fluids, flow back fluids, fracking chemicals, and naturally occurring contaminants migrate into drinking water and rivers with the fluids being linked to cancer and major fish deaths.
Justice Pepper has indicated she wants to hear the 'scientific evidence' and not the 'emotion surrounding the issue' of fracking.
Following the community consultation program this month, the Panel will release an Interim Report summarising the feedback received by the Panel on the Issues Paper in mid-2017. The Panel will conduct further consultations following the publication of the Interim Report and a draft Final Report. A Final Report will be provided to the Northern Territory Government by the end of 2017.