This is meant as an open letter to the Gunner Government.
I was very shocked and disappointed but not surprised to see in the Supreme Court the out-and-out arrogance and dishonest behaviour by Santos in the Rallen v Santos case that was just settled at court on 14 January 2022.
Our promised world’s best practices and robust regulatory frameworks have been ignored and abused by Santos who had also misled the NT Government.
Santos admitted it had breached the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations, misleading stakeholders. It would appear that that was its standard practice to ignore stakeholder engagement contrary to the regulations and effectively also misleading Environment and Natural Resources Minister Eva Lawler into thinking that stakeholder engagement had taken place, when in fact it had not.
We have heard over and over about gas companies running roughshod over land holders, traditional owners, and communities, reported to mainstream media and government departments.
When is this arrogance going to stop and government implement all the Pepper inquiry recommendations around stakeholder engagement and minimum protections for stakeholders, communities and environment to protect our businesses and water security?
We want the government to act as a regulator, not a facilitator.
This case is an example of how the regulatory framework for onshore petroleum is failing the community and the stakeholders. Why did Minister Lawler not pick up that there was only a single email constituting stakeholder engagement?
The regulatory framework, integrity, and transparency don’t pass the pub test, and we want action to hold these repeat offenders accountable. The consequences of failure to regulate could be catastrophic for the Territory.
Proven allegations with no accountability or consequences are not acceptable.
The science around well integrity hasn’t been settled or accepted. Minimising risks to acceptable levels, is not acceptable, with dodgy watered-down regulations that don’t protect communities and the environment.
There are still serious concerns around what are the water trigger levels, beyond which onshore petroleum activities must stop. Why are there no obligations to remove wastewater?
Why are emissions not taking into account Scope 3 methane emissions? Reductions and offset plans are unknown.
Experts in the field say that emissions from fracking the Beetaloo would increase Australia’s emissions by 22 per cent alone.
There is a major lack of understanding of potable or beneficial water tables (aquifers) that are interconnected. And other toxic water tables that potentially, and are likely to be, cross-connected with serious consequences to our water security and purity. This security and purity gives our food industries an edge, particularly when selling our clean, green image.
What happens to these products if, or when, cross-connection and contamination happens?
These water and geological studies must be completed independently and transparently before government considers its options of giving the green light to onshore petroleum production and passing the final risk assessments due at the end of this year, as recommended by the Pepper inquiry.
We know aquifers are connected from stygofauna studies that found DNA the same in all tested aquifers tested by Charles Darwin University. Why was CDU sacked before completing these independent water studies in the Beetaloo?
We cannot afford to brush over and cherrypick these very important inquiry recommendations in favour of a risky fly-by industry that will only be around for 20 to 30 years at best. With no means to fix broken, contaminated, or depleted aquifers with little-to-no economic benefits other than the millions of dollars to the gas companies in taxpayer subsidies to prop them up.
Santos’ admission in the NT Supreme Court would indicate that it is a serial offender at least in the NT.
If government fails to act with the big stick in the best interests of the communities, environment and water security, they would fail their duty of care and prove they can’t be trusted to act in the best interests of our health, businesses, environment, economy and water security that revolves around sustainable development and clean water security.
I am a very disappointed member of the public and a stakeholder, and congratulate Rallen’s courage in calling out Santos’ unlawful behaviour.
The government should now know not to accept even the biggest players in the onshore petroleum industry’s word, and do their due diligence properly before rolling out the red carpet and putting communities, stakeholders and the environment at risk.