Without science, we wouldn’t have lights, televisions, fridges or smart phones – inventions most of us use every day.
Each of these products also rely on gas-fired electricity to energise them here in the Northern Territory.
Science has underpinned onshore gas exploration and production in the Territory and will continue to do so as economic opportunities are realised in the Beetaloo sub-basin, 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin.
This development has taken a major step forward with the recent completion of all 138 recommendations of the Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing.
The Beetaloo Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) contributed to 35 of these recommendations, with numerous scientific studies across the six domains listed below:
1. Water quality and quantity
2. Aquatic ecosystems
3. Terrestrial ecosystems
4. Greenhouse gas emissions
5. Environmental health
6. Social, cultural and economic.
The Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security (DEPWS) led the SREBA, an integrated and systematic data collection program that is unique in the Northern Territory, and possibly Australia, in its extent and scope
This is illustrated by some impressive statistics:
• A study area of 86,400 square kilometres, which is 20 percent larger than Tasmania
• More than 100 scientists and technical experts from 10 Northern Territory Government agencies and external organisations involved in data collection
• 200 interviews with stakeholders conducted by the social, cultural and economic research team
• 23 new water monitoring bores installed across the region, with three kilometres of vertical drilling
• 364,000 kilometres driven by DEPWS vehicles during water and ecology studieS
• 14,500 person-hours in the field collecting data on plants and animals • Native vegetation assessed at more than 5000 sites
• More than 800,000 images recorded by motion-detecting cameras
• 14,000 kilometres of transects recording ambient greenhouse gas levels • Five high-tech ambient air quality monitoring stations set up
Dr Alaric Fisher, DEPWS Executive Director, Flora and Fauna, says the work involved to complete the SREBA was immense and has great confidence that the scientific studies will withstand public scrutiny and the test of time.
“Importantly, this work will underpin robust assessment, regulation and monitoring of a developing gas industry and therefore minimise risks associated with hydraulic fracturing activities – as the Inquiry always intended,” he says.
“I am extremely proud of the work undertaken by my colleagues within DEPWS and other organisations, including CSIRO, Charles Darwin University, University of Queensland and environmental consultants who have worked so diligently over several years to undertake and complete these world-leading scientific studies.
“The purpose of the SREBA was to provide the information necessary for sound decisions to be made about the development of any onshore shale gas industry in the Beetaloo region, including assessment of water and biodiversity resources, to inform land-use planning, and the collection of baseline data to provide a reference for ongoing monitoring.”
The SREBA also drew in data and information from previous studies, notably the Commonwealth Beetaloo Geological and Bioregional Assessment (GBA) program.
These combined studies represent a $30 million investment in understanding the Beetaloo region, following the scientific inquiry.
“The SREBA studies did not reveal new risks associated with onshore gas development additional to those that were extensively examined by the inquiry and the Beetaloo GBA – but the SREBA provides additional information to help understand and manage these risks,” Dr Fisher says.
“There is now a very large body of data and research findings relating to water resources in the Beetaloo region, particularly about the groundwater in the Cambrian Limestone Aquifer.
“This includes a detailed understanding of groundwater recharge, flow, levels, connectivity and discharge, which will feed into water allocation plans to manage sustainable groundwater use.
“The SREBA is not in itself a risk assessment but provides comprehensive information to allow government, regulators and industry to apply robust risk assessment.
“The GBA program has already developed a systematic approach to assess the regional-scale risks of gas development in the Beetaloo region, and it is recommended that the SREBA data is incorporated to provide a powerful tool for assessment and approval decisions about gas development.
“The findings from each SREBA domain can also be used to inform the development of a regional monitoring framework for the Beetaloo region, to detect any cumulative or indirect impacts from onshore gas activities.
“This would include both biophysical indicators, such as water quality, and a long-term, participatory, regional social impact monitoring program.”
The information collected by the SREBA is described in detailed baseline reports for each of the study domains and summarised in a Beetaloo SREBA regional report.