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The NT government has green-lit fracking in the Beetaloo Basin. What does it mean?

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

After more than a half decade of uncertainty, the Northern Territory government has green-lit fracking in the Beetaloo Basin.

In announcing the long-awaited decision, the government said environmental risks could be safely managed and that a full-scale onshore gas industry would provide significant economic benefits to the Northern Territory.

But a broad range of voices, including traditional owners, environmental groups and pastoralists, have swiftly condemned the government's final call on fracking in the Beetaloo.

Here's what we know about the decision and what could happen next.

What was announced?

The bottom line is that the NT government will allow fracking to go ahead in the Beetaloo Basin.

Now oil and gas companies will be able to make an application for onshore gas production projects.

NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said all applications made for gas production would go through a rigorous monitoring and approval process.

Chief Minister Natasha Fyles says the government will "move carefully to manage the onshore gas industry". (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Why is the decision important?

The government says the fracking industry will provide jobs and help develop the remote regions of the NT, but the focus for many will now be on the environmental implications.

Fracking the Beetaloo had been heavily opposed by environmental groups due to the significant increase in Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions that would be caused by tapping the basin's reserves.

The decision also comes despite a key climate safeguard, promised by the NT government if it fracked the basin, still being unresolved.

The measure, known as recommendation 9.8 of the 2018 Pepper inquiry, requires the NT to get the federal government's commitment and support to ensure there is no net increase to Australia's emissions from fracked gas in the NT.

On Wednesday, Ms Fyles said the government had "absolutely met the recommendation" but did not answer whether the federal government had made a commitment.

Earlier this year, Federal Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the federal government would not be doing anything to help offset emissions from the Beetaloo Basin.

The NT government has promised to implement all 135 of the Pepper inquiry's recommendations if fracking were to go ahead, but concerned groups say many have still not been properly addressed.

The basin stretches across Aboriginal and pastoral land 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin. (ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Another key question lingering over the NT government relates to "scope two" and, more critically, "scope three" emissions.

Scope three emissions are those released by the burning of gas fracked in the Beetaloo Basin, which the Pepper inquiry recommended must be offset.

But the NT government said it would not be able to manage these emissions, which energy experts have estimated could amount to 75 per cent of total emissions generated from fracking the basin.

Under a recent deal struck between the Greens and federal Labor on its safeguard mechanism policy, scope two and three emissions from Beetaloo gas will be referred to a meeting of state and territory energy ministers to consider.

What has the reaction been?

Environmental groups have condemned the government's decision.

Fracking has been an ongoing political issue in the Northern Territory. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

In an open letter published in newspapers on Wednesday, a group of nearly 100 scientists urged the government to abandon fracking in the Beetaloo, saying doing so would be catastrophic for the environment.

The Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, which represents traditional owners in the Beetaloo Basin, also said the government had "broken its promise" by not implanting all the inquiry's recommendations.

"In communities it's clear that the government has not done a proper job of making sure Aboriginal people understand the huge impact fracking will have on our country and that our voice is heard," corporation chair Johnny Wilson said.

Mr Wilson was also sceptical that economic benefits would be passed on to traditional owners.

Johnny Wilson says the government has let traditional owners down and "not done a proper job". (Supplied: Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation)

Cattle company Rallen Australia, which has exploration fracking wells owned by Santos and Tamboran Resources on its properties, said the decision posed serious risks to the NT's cattle industry and water security.

Environment Centre NT executive director Kirsty Howey labelled the announcement as "a profoundly sad day for the Northern Territory" and "flies in the face of the science".

But Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison said the project would stimulate the NT economy.

"It will help fund things like schools, hospitals, services, housing … more jobs, more benefits, more development in remote regions of the NT," she said.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) welcomed the announcement and the NT Chamber of Commerce said a local fracking industry would create jobs and "encourage more and more people to want to live in the territory".

So what happens next?

Oil and gas companies are expected to begin submitting production applications for government approval from 2024.

Ms Fyles said the NT government would now move carefully to manage the onshore gas industry through "our strengthened regulatory framework, ensuring greater transparency and accountability, and ensuring that traditional owners, Aboriginal people, have a seat at the table".

"Now is time for the Northern Territory to provide the energy that the world needs to transition to renewables energies," she said.

"We are absolutely serious about protecting out environment and our social amenity. This won't come at a cost to Territorians."

Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison and Ms Fyles during the Beetaloo announcement on Wednesday. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)
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