One of the Northern Territory’s biggest and wealthiest pastoral landholders will join traditional owners to “resist” the entry of fracking companies onto its expansive holdings in the Beetaloo Basin.
The former Morrison government made gas exploration in the Beetaloo a central pillar of its so-called gas-led recovery from the pandemic, accelerating exploration in the region by granting big gas companies tens of millions of dollars in incentives.
Experts have warned that exploiting the Beetaloo’s gas reserves would lead to a 13% increase in Australia’s carbon emissions, describing it as a “carbon bomb of extraordinary proportions”. In contrast, some traditional owners have raised concerns about the lack of a proper and informed consent process.
As Greens MPs call on Labor to reverse the Beetaloo exploration, one of the nation’s biggest pastoral landholders, Rallen Australia, is ramping up its fight against fracking on its vast property holdings in the Beetaloo.
Rallen, owned by the wealthy Langenhoven-Ravazzotti families, says its pastoralists will gather with traditional owners at Tanumbirini Station – one of its giant cattle stations – on Wednesday to “resist” fracking company Tamboran Resources, which is seeking to explore the gas reserves on the site.
Rallen has steadfastly opposed Tamboran’s plans to frack on its land, but the gas company went to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to force access to Tanumbirini Station.
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Rallen says pastoralists will gather on horses at a key access gate to monitor Tamboran’s activities, stop it from accessing no-go zones on the property, and protect water and sacred sites.
Rallen Australia’s director, Pierre Langenhoven, said it was “unprecedented” that a fracking company was trying to force access to a cattle station without pastoralists’ consent.
“Working side by side with traditional owners, we will act to protect the sacred sites, crucial water resources, and land we care for together,” he said.
“The government has given these fly-by-night companies free rein rather than properly regulating the industry to safeguard sacred sites and water as well as the cattle industry, contributing billions to the local economy.”
In a letter to the Guardian addressing Rallen’s accusations, Tamboran Resources said it had attempted to engage in good faith with Rallen Australia to negotiate an equitable access agreement. Still, Rallen opposed the NT benefitting from an onshore gas industry.
Tamboran said it had a legal right to access the land to explore for gas and that Rallen – who are pastoral leaseholders, not landholders – did not own the gas resources or the ground.
The company said it had also secured the consent of traditional owners via the Northern Land Council, the prescribed body responsible for representing conventional owners in the region.
It also rejected any suggestion it was a “fly by night” company, saying Tamboran had invested more than $200m into the Beetaloo Basin assets since 2012.
The Langenhoven-Ravazzotti families have spent more than $200m buying six cattle stations covering more than 1.1m hectares in the Northern Territory in the past four years.
That includes Tanumbirini and Forrest Hill stations, which cover a staggering 560,000 hectares, the 376,000-hectare Kalala Station, the 80,900-ha McMinn Station, and the 70,700-ha Big River Station.
The situation in the Beetaloo is an early test for the new Labor government on climate action.
The previous government used a $50m incentive program to accelerate drilling, awarding almost half to a single company, Empire Energy. In a court challenge against the awarding of the grants, Environment Centre NT presented modeling that suggested fracking in the Beetaloo Basin could drive up Australia’s emissions by 13%, using up the rest of Australia’s carbon budget under the Paris Agreement.
On Tuesday, greens leader Adam Bandt called for Labor to stop “climate-destroying gas projects like [the Woodside Scarborough gas project in Western Australia] and Beetaloo”.
“These projects can still be stopped,” he said. “The incoming government has the power to hit the pause button, and that’s what the scientists are telling us we need to do because we’re in a climate emergency.”