By ERWIN CHLANDA
The amount of money Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory stand to get from the production of gas, most of it fracked, is absolutely staggering.
At a conservative estimate, and using an Origin Energy press release as a guide, 500 wells producing one million cubic feet of gas a day, and at the current price paid in Sydney, would generate $1.75b a year.
Assuming the statutory 10% mining royalty under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act will be adopted for gas, and extended to Native Title land, that would mean traditional owners and land councils in the NT, and Indigenous beneficiaries Australia wide, would be sharing $175m a year or $3.5b over two decades.
To that can be added a negotiated royalty of around 3%. Of course, production would take some years to get up to speed.
These estimates come from a well informed source speaking to the Alice Springs News Online on the condition of not being named.
The source says the flow rate might be twice or three times that – double or triple the value.
And the Giles government last year was talking about 1000 wells.
Meanwhile it seems clear that their mining veto would enable Aborigines to shut down much of the industry in the blink of an eye: Under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act they have freehold ownership of 53% of the NT land mass where the veto can be exercised.
Over almost all the remainder, short of perhaps 3%, Native Title rights have either been declared or are able to be declared. Territory cattle stations are held under leases which are not immune to native title claims.
Gas exploration, fracking and production may be considered as significant impact under Native Title laws, and what effect that will have remains to be seen.
However, it is unlikely that the land councils will adopt a blanket policy on these issues and traditional owners will have the power to make decisions for or against gas extraction on a case by case basis.
At the meeting near Kalkaringi in August last year, held to honour Vincent Lingiari and the families who walked off Wave Hill Station in 1966, the following decisions on fracking were made:-
“The joint meeting of Northern Land Council (NLC) and the Central Land Council (CLC) supports the rights of traditional Aboriginal owners to make their own decisions about the use of their land and waters free from outside influence.
“It is important to ensure that traditional owners have all the relevant information. The land councils will continue to make sure this happens.
“We recognise that some Aboriginal people have concerns about hydraulic fracturing and do not want it to occur on their lands and waters.”
And this is the clincher: “But our job is to support and respect the decisions of traditional Aboriginal owners for the area in question.”
The row between Indigenous groups in the Barkly over the Jemena pipeline is likely to be an indicator of more to come: The money or the land, that will clearly become the question.
No doubt the anti fracking lobby will have its work cut out, facing the task of influencing hundreds of groups of TOs as exploration and production leases are applied for or re-activated, should the current fracking moratorium be lifted.
For the moment Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO Jimmy Cocking says: “We’ll ask the CLC for an opportunity to address traditional owners.”
It will also be interesting to see what the “evidence based” fracking inquiry will make of all that.