Voice of Real Australia: The Territory's struggle with emissions is also Australia's problem

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Compressed gas is transported from the Northern Territory to Japan from a massive factory in Darwin Harbor. Picture: Inpex.

Compressed gas is transported from the Northern Territory to Japan from a massive factory in Darwin Harbor. Picture: Inpex.

There is a story about the Northern Territory which goes like this.

A newly elected leader, with the inflated moniker of chief minister, fronted a national cabinet meeting in about 2016 chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by fellow leaders from the states and territories.

Labor's hero Michael Gunner was accorded the respect due after his thumping of the conservatives and was allowed to speak first.

As the story goes, Mr Gunner consulted his notes and said he would like the nation to consider elevating the Territory to statehood.

Laughter was immediate, universal and loud. When our leaders realised Mr Gunner was being serious, it just set them off again.

A chastened Mr Gunner was never to raise the matter again, so the story goes.

The NT is an economic basket case, it relies almost totally on GST revenue from Canberra to pay its many public servants.

There is hardly anyone living up there, about 250,000 at last count, pretty much the population of Victoria's Geelong.

And there's a heck of a lot of land separating those few hardy folk, it does take a lot of looking after, hence the Feds are happy for someone else to do it, enter stage left Mr Gunner and Co.

Tourism does okay in the dry season (autumn, winter) and the enormous stations produce a lot of cattle for the live trade.

There's a few mines dotted about the joint, but little else in the way of industry - most people just go fishing.

The NT did have a golden goose.

That was called Inpex.

It was a Japanese company which needed to find a way to power their island nation after nuclear went off the boil post the tsunami a decade ago.

With Ichthys they mined natural gas off the Darwin coast, brought it back to the Darwin Harbor factory to distill it, compress it, and load it aboard giant tankers back to Japan.

One of the biggest factories ever built in the southern hemisphere rose beyond the mangroves costing $US36 billion.

Gas is extracted by fracking from these shale rocks deep underneath the NT outback.

Gas is extracted by fracking from these shale rocks deep underneath the NT outback.

Many thousands were employed in its construction and the NT boomed.

Satellite city Palmerston sprouted new suburbs almost every week.

The company built a massive construction camp at Howard Springs to house this mighty workforce, the same camp which has been a national standout in COVID-19 quarantine.

The camp was used because it was empty.

Inpex is built, the workers have gone and with the lack of planning the Territory is famous for, no thought was given to what would happen once the party was over.

The economy fell off a cliff.

Businesses were going broke a long time before COVID.

The NT desperately looked for another golden goose, and this time zeroed in on the onshore gas industry.

Labor contorted all sorts of policy directions to allow the industry to develop.

Fracking was allowed, greenhouse gas risks were set aside for the future, protests from the faithful were brushed aside.

When the Feds wanted another fossil fuel to replace coal, they seized on the potential of the remote Beetaloo Basin's ancient shales.

It was a happy day for Gunner and Co.

As the brown coal of the Latrobe Valley propelled Victoria to become an economic powerhouse, this deep gas would give the Territory a second shot at independence.

Perhaps even statehood.

But there is the problem, which the industry set aside for the future, which has come home to roost.

The world is dying, and risks being choked by greenhouse gas.

A NT gas industry could produce as much as a quarter of all Australia's methane.

This is a time when the world wants less greenhouse gas, Australia wants to produce more.

The answer was provided by the same scientific inquiry which allowed the industry to develop in the first place.

It was recommendation 9.8 of the Pepper inquiry.

This writer was at the Gunner press conference where he emphatically said all 135 recommendations from the Pepper inquiry would be adopted in full, even 9.8.

This recommendation states that the NT and Australian Government seek to ensure there is no net increase in the lifecycle emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT.

You can have your new polluting industry, but you have to find other environmental savings to pay for it.

The government has wrestled with an offsets policy ever since, years later they still don't have one.

The latest plan is to build a bigger carbon storage "hub", bigger than anyone has ever been able to do, and hide all the problems there.

As fracking opponents have already said, carbon capture is unproven, unlikely and probably a pipedream.

As Protect Country Alliance pointed out, the major greenhouse gas fracking will produce in the Territory is methane - not carbon dioxide.

Depending on who you talk to, the Beetaloo will produce a hefty chunk of all Australia's methane emissions when it is up and going.

Not a good look when net zero emission targets are demanded of our world leaders.

Keep an eye out for the unusual name of "Beetaloo", there's a lot more to this story to come yet.

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