Don’t keep secrets from the public on fracking progress
OPINION: It has been suggested the Northern Territory public did not need to know about the partial well failure at Kyalla 117 this week.
The claim was made by an NT Government official, not the gas companies themselves.
But surely that is not true.
Origin and its joint venture partner Falcon Oil and Gas have tried to allay public disquiet once the information was made public, though not by the government.
We here in the Territory are newcomers to this world of fracking.
We rely almost totally on the advice of experts.
Origin says failures of this sort are not uncommon, the horizontal drill hole was almost half way complete when trouble struck.
It plugged the hole and plans to start drilling again within weeks and start fracking to see how much, and what sort, of gas is deep under the Beetaloo.
Sounds reasonable on the face of it but forgive us for being alarmed.
This is the showpiece well, the Government itself made a big song and dance about Kyalla 117 last year as it looks to onshore gas as a way out of its economic mire.
For the first well to strike problems of any sort is cannon fodder to the anti-frackers but worrying to those sitting on the fence as well.
Precisely because we are not expert on this new industry means we will need constant reassurance all is well.
The government has to play its part in this, after all they opened the door to it despite fierce and ongoing opposition.
Origin and Falcon reported the “operational problem” to the NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources as it is required to do but there was no plan to tell the public about it.
Falcon owns a 30 per cent stake in Kyalla 117.
But like Origin, it has a responsibility to shareholders.
The company is headquartered in Dublin but is listed on several stock exchanges, including London’s, and as is legally required, reported it had struck some minor trouble thousands of kilometres away in the remote outback of Australia.
The trouble it reported was less about the integrity of the work, but the delay it was going to cause.
Its share prices took a hit, but only for a day.
Exploration of this sort is a risky business, investors get the jitters when things go wrong, but by law they have to know.
Company officials face jail if they don’t disclose operational issues which may impact on the bottom line of projects, even those a long, long way away.
That’s how the information got out.
The gas explorers say they are committed to being open and transparent about their activities despite these legal obligations.
Ever after years of suspicion, protests and many times feeling unwanted, these companies still want the public to embrace a new industry they say is safe, lucrative, and perhaps for the NT’s sake, a lifesaver.
These are nervous early days, the government cannot be in the business of keeping secrets.
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