Pitt’s NT fracking decision a ‘slap in the face’

Fracking rig set up in desert area
Image: Shutterstock

Environmentalists have criticised Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt’s decision to re-award taxpayer grants to fracking company Imperial, calling it a “slap in the face”.

Speaking via Zoom to an Energy Club NT event in Darwin, Pitt announced his intention to direct $19.4 million in public funds to support the drilling of three exploratory fracking wells. The same grants were struck down by the Federal Court last year after a challenge brought by the Environment Centre NT. The judge found that Minister Pitt’s decision to award the earlier grants had been legally “unreasonable and capricious”.

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Environment Centre NT co-director Kirsty Howey said, “Territorians will be outraged by Minister Pitt’s decision to channel public money into the pockets of gas companies, after the last grants were challenged in court.

“Pitt’s conduct was found by the court to be capricious and unreasonable. To turn around and re-award these grants goes against public expectations about how taxpayer money should be spent. Government should be supporting jobs in long-term, sustainable industries, not handing out support to its fossil fuel executive mates.”

Pitt’s presence at the event was met by a demonstration of community members opposing the public funding of fossil fuel projects. Territorians held signs saying ‘Frack off Keith Pitt’ and ‘No more public $ for gas’. 

The Environment Centre NT has recently lodged a submission concerning new fracking plans of Imperial Oil and Gas. Imperial’s own Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for the project revealed that, from exploration alone, the greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to 4.6 per cent of the Territory’s entire emissions. 

Climate action group 350 Australia also criticised the decision, calling it an “atrocious misuse of public money”.

350 Australia campaigns director Kelly Albion said, “The International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recent reports were completely clear that opening up new gas basins is incompatible with a safe future—it’s mind-boggling that our government is actually handing public money to gas companies to accelerate fracking. 

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“The Morrison Government is clearly more interested in giving money to their donors in the gas industry than hearing the concerns of Traditional Owners and local communities who don’t want Empire Energy’s project to go ahead.” 

Documents released under Freedom of Information to 350 Australia reveal extensive lobbying by Empire Energy of Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor. This included coordination around a party fundraiser and requests for early information about the grants scheme in January 2021. Empire Energy chair Paul Espie has made numerous, large donations to the Liberal Party, totalling close to $400,000 and chairs the Liberal-aligned Menzies Research Centre.

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