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Fracking regulator disputes NT government's claim it met all Pepper Inquiry promises

The NT government will allow a full-scale onshore gas industry to go ahead in the gas-rich Beetaloo Basin. (Supplied: Tamboran Resources Limited)

The Northern Territory's independent regulator has disputed a claim that the government met all the recommendations of a major inquiry before approving fracking.

On Wednesday NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles green-lit full-scale gas production in the Beetaloo Basin, five years after a moratorium on fracking was lifted.

The ban was lifted on the condition the NT government implement in full all 135 recommendations of the 2018 Pepper Inquiry, which were aimed at mitigating all associated risks from fracking.

"We have undertaken a comprehensive body of work so that we can meet those independent recommendations — all 135 from the initial inquiry," Ms Fyles said.

But the independent officer overseeing the implementation of the requirements, David Ritchie, said recommendation 9.8 remained outstanding.

"My report makes it very clear … that [with recommendation] 9.8, we've still got Scope 2 emissions that have not been accounted for," Dr Ritchie told reporters this morning.

"The inquiry found that the release of that quantity of gas, that 26-odd million tonnes, is an unacceptable risk.

"That's why 9.8 exists."

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Ms Fyles said: "In terms of 9.8, we have absolutely met the recommendation".

In Dr Ritchie's final report, he wrote "there has been no progress on the crux of this recommendation".

Grattan Institute program director for energy and climate change, Tony Wood, said it was still unclear how the NT government would help offset all the lifecycle emissions from fracking, as promised.

"The Northern Territory government says 'we can't take responsibility for emissions that occur outside the Northern Territory'," Mr Wood said.

Tony Wood says there is was no more clarity around Recommendation 9.8. (ABC News: Steve Keen)

"But inside Australia, the Commonwealth government hasn't come up with a particular view yet about how it would contribute."

Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said the question of whether Beetaloo emissions were being burned in the NT, interstate or overseas was irrelevant in the context of global warming. 

"It doesn't matter where it's burned — climate change affects all of us," she said. 

"You can't slow down by putting your foot on the accelerator."

Protesters gathered outside Parliament House in Darwin ahead of the fracking announcement. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)

Federal Greens leader Adam Bandt said the NT government had "jumped the gun" by announcing approvals to frack the Beetaloo. 

"There are a number of matters that are still outstanding for the Beetaloo project, including working out how of the emissions ... are going to be offset," he said. 

The claim by Natasha Fyles that recommendation 9.8 angered protesters, who defaced her office.  (ABC News: Dane Hirst)

Critics question expansion

The NT government's framing of gas as the best alternative to coal-fired power stations has also been questioned.

During yesterday's press conference, NT Mining Minister Nicole Manison asked reporters: "Do we want to see more coal-fired power generation, or would you rather see a cleaner source of energy, such as gas?" 

Ms Fyles and Ms Manison said more gas was needed in Australia for moving away from coal and facilitating the switch to renewables. 

However federal Independent Senator David Pocock said Australia already had enough gas for the energy transition. 

"We export almost three-quarters of our gas," he said on Wednesday. 

"Those arguments are bogus," he said.

David Pocock says Australia doesn't need new gas projects. (ABC News: Emmy Groves)

Pro-renewables financial energy analyst Bruce Robertson said it was "a mistake" to promote gas as the only viable alternative to coal when renewables were gaining momentum.

"At the moment, the power system is moving — without significant government intervention — towards a renewables-rich grid," he said. 

"And that means way less gas will be used, and a very tiny amount of gas overall will be used to generate power."

Bruce Robertson says the role of gas in Australia's energy mix will decline in coming years. (Four Corners: Harriet Tatham)

Gas industry hails 'low carbon' Beetaloo gas

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association NT director David Slama welcomed the NT government's decision to allow fracking in the basin.

"Not all fossil fuels are the same," he said.

"That's a common brush that we're often tarred with."

Mr Slama said Beetaloo gas was cleaner than most fossil fuels, and that it would play a critical role in the transition to renewables. 

However he said he also recognised that gas was "not going to be here forever".

David Slama stressed the role of gas in transitioning to renewables.  (Supplied: Business SA)

"The absolute long-term demand for gas will drop off, but it's going to be needed for the next 50 years," he said.

Mr Slama said the number of fracking-related jobs in the NT would depend on how the gas was used. 

"If all we're going to do is pull gas out of the ground and pipe it away, then there'll be less jobs," he said. 

"But if we're going to ... send it up to Darwin ... and decarbonise the gas and use carbon capture and storage technologies to create a clean energy fuel .... then there's going to be more jobs."

Ms Slama said between 3,000 to 4,000 jobs could be created over a 20-year period.

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