Pastoralist company to join forces with Beetaloo Basin traditional owners to resist gas exploration

·4 min read

One of the Northern Territory’s biggest and wealthiest pastoral landholders will join traditional owners to “resist” the entry of fracking companies on to 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 the exploitation of the Beetaloo’s gas reserves would lead to a 13% increase to Australia’s carbon emissions, describing it as a “carbon bomb of extraordinary proportions”, while some traditional owners have raised concerns about the lack of a proper and informed consent process.

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Now, 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 own fight against fracking on its vast property holdings in the Beetaloo.

Rallen, owned by the wealthy Langenhoven-Ravazzotti families, says its pastoralists will on Wednesday gather with traditional owners at Tanumbirini Station – one of its giant cattle stations – 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.

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 on 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 which contributes 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, but that Rallen was fundamentally opposed to 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 lease holders, not landholders – did not own the gas resources or the land.

The company said it had also secured the consent of traditional owners via the Northern Land Council, which is the prescribed body responsible for representing traditional 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.

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That includes Tanumbirini and Forrest Hill stations, which together cover a staggering 560,000 hectares, as well as the 376,000 hectare Kalala Station, the 80,900ha McMinn Station, and the 70,700ha Big River Station.

The situation in the Beetaloo shapes as 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 modelling 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.

Greens leader, Adam Bandt, on Tuesday 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.”

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