Federal resources minister Keith Pitt has gifted another $7.5 million to the gas industry to drill for gas in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin, with the Morrison government doubling down on its support for an expanded fossil fuel industry.
Pitt announced on Monday that he had awarded the $7.5 million grant to Sweetpea Petroleum, a subsidiary of Tamboran Resources, to undertake exploration drilling in the Beetaloo Basin.
Pitt used the growing crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent fallout for energy markets across Europe to justify the grant and the government’s ongoing support for an expansion of Australia’s gas industry.
“We should take the energy crisis in Europe as a warning of what could happen in Australia if there is not enough investment in the gas sector,” Pitt said.
“As uncertainty grips the world, our international partners will look to Australia for the resources they need to provide energy security.”
But the funding was slammed by climate action campaigners 350.org Australia, which said it was “beyond belief” that the federal government was providing further funding for the fossil fuel industry at a time when communities are being devastated by the impacts of climate change.
“If the Beetaloo Basin is opened up for gas that will result in well over a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions which is completely incompatible with a safe future,” 350.org Australia senior campaigner Shani Tager said.
“We can’t afford the emissions that come from opening up new gas basins and no more public money should be spent on such reckless endeavours.”
“The Morrison Government is throwing huge sums of money at a polluting and dangerous industry against the wishes of the local communities. These funds would be far better spent helping communities recover from worsening natural disasters,” Tager added.
The Morrison government has sought to establish the Beetaloo Basin as a major source of new fossil gas, committing $226 million to subsidise its development. The basin is expected to contain substantial gas reserves, which would likely be destined for international export markets if tapped.
Documents released under a freedom of information request revealed that the federal and NT governments had been warned that the expansion of fracking activities in the Northern Territory could produce an extra 39 to 117 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, in addition to the emissions created when the gas is burnt.
The extra emissions would amount to an increase in Australia’s emissions of between 7 and 22 per cent, respectively, meaning the Northern Territory fracking developments could undo any progress Australia has made towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
The grant becomes the latest funding awarded under the controversial $50 million Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program, which subsidises the exploration for new gas in the region.
The Morrison government has been criticised for an earlier award of around $20 million in funding under the drilling program to Empire Energy, a company with significant links to the Liberal Party.
The senior management and board of Empire Energy have significant personal links to the Liberal Party. A parliamentary inquiry into the grants discovered that the company had attended a fundraiser organised by federal energy minister Angus Taylor in the months leading up to the grant being awarded.
But Taylor and Pitt have denied any wrongdoing or impropriety regarding the provision of funding to Empire Energy.
However, Pitt was forced to re-issue the funding to Empire Energy after the federal court struck down the minister’s original grant decision after the government failed to fulfil its model litigant obligations during a legal challenge to the drilling program.
The push from both the Morrison government and gas companies to open up the Beetaloo for gas exploration has been slammed by a number of environmental, health and First Nations groups.
First Nations groups have raised particular concerns about the impacts the gas projects would have on areas covered by Native Title. Some traditional owner groups expressed dismay that the Morrison government was prioritising funding for the gas industry over the provision of services for local communities.
Pitt announced on Monday that the Northern Land Council would be provided $2.1 million to facilitate consultation with Traditional Owners and Native Title holders in the Beetaloo Basin region.