Beetaloo Boondoggle: political bribes beat the planet as gas fracking gets public hand-outs

by Michael West | Aug 26, 2021 | Energy & Environment

As a block, the two major parties voted to give our money, public money, to corporations to drill for coal seam gas in the Northern Territory, to open up a gigantic new territory, the Beetaloo Basin, for fracking.

The latest capitulation to corporate profits came yesterday morning as both the Coalition and Labor opposed a disallowance motion in Parliament to prevent $50m in public grants going to gas explorers in the Northern Territory. It was yet another political capitulation for corporate bribery, gas company donations.

And so it was that they voted to wreck the planet for their own financial gain. They even voted for money over common sense; because Australia is the world’s biggest gas exporter already. We don’t need more gas, that’s a myth peddled by Australia’s most powerful lobby groups such as APPEA, in turn controlled by foreign fossil fuel corporations such as Shell and Exxon.

They voted to make a US billionaire richer. For, among the prospective winners from this act of political betrayal, is Tamboran Resources, a speculative explorer backed by a US shale-oil billionaire.

That company, incredibly, is threatening to sue Michael West Media and gas analyst Bruce Robertson from IEEFA, for defamation. So, effectively, Parliament has voted to give money to a US billionaire threatening to sue a small independent journalism business in Australia for exercising free speech, threatening to soak up the time in the Australian courts attempting to muzzle journalists with the menace of making them bankrupt.  

Another winner from the escapade is senior Liberal Party figure Paul Espie, whose Empire Energy is slated to get half of the $50m in funding from his Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling grant program.

This is not just a case of our politicians being bought off yet again by corporations, bribed to push through a policy which wrecks the planet, it is a case of them using our money, public funds to pay foreign interests to poison the water tables of the world’s driest continent, to contaminate our most precious resource.

Meanwhile, 2700 kilometres south-east at Narrabri in NSW, Santos has won its long battle against farmers and the local community to frack for gas. 

Santos is a large political donor to both major parties.

As local farmer David Quince told us last week, “The sadness in detailing all of the concerns surrounding CSG extraction, the lies, the refusal to acknowledge scientific evidence, the politicians who are actively promoting the industry is that, were it not for people power, the industry would have already overrun precious and productive areas in NSW”.

In Queensland, after years of tortuous debate, another foreign controlled company Adani has finally broken earth in its Carmichael thermal coal mine, a venture which will put an extra 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere at a time when the world is calling for an end to new fossil fuel projects.

The good news is that, despite the acrimony and the egregious waste of public money and the injury to the planet, none of these projects are likely to actually produce their fossil fuels for long. They are simply not viable without public money.

The global surfeit of gas and coal will likely render them uneconomic. This is why Santos already pays almost no tax. It’s already stressed. It is why the major political parties are throwing money at the “gas transition”, why they are subsidising the speculative drillers in the Northern Territory.

It is why BHP has just moved to offload its oil and gas assets in a mega-deal to Woodside. It is why US oil leviathan Exxon is trying to flog its Bass Strait platforms.

In a true market, which the neo-liberals in the Coalition and Labor claim should prevail, there should be no government subsidies. If there is a financial return to be made, it should be made with true corporate risk. That, at least, is their theory.

It is not their practice. In subsidising these projects, in throwing money even at fossil fuel power generation via the likes of the proposed Kurri Kurri gas plant in NSW, they are making a mockery of their own economic theories.

So what do we have? We have the power-brokers in the major parties soliciting donations from gas companies to keep themselves in power or, in Labor’s case, to get into office. And we have world condemnation. 

Code Red for humanity

“This is code red for humanity” said Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, on the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As the effects of climate change become more apparent, access to safe, secure groundwater resources will become critical he said. 

The people who are dismissive of “climate change” and who often make the comment “the climate has always been changing”, cannot deny the fact that earth’s population is rapidly expanding. From 1939 when the population was 2.2 billion to 2021 when the population is calculated to be 7.5 billion, to the projection of 10 billion in 2055.

We live on a small sphere floating in the universe. We have a finite supply of resources available to us. Population growth and the increasing demands of our population as large numbers are embracing a higher standard of living, are putting increased pressure on our planet.

In April 2021 US Vice President Kamala Harris made the statement “In the not too distant future, wars will be fought over water.” Her comments echo similar statements made by many others.

Harris’ reference to water as a precious global commodity reflects UN data on resource scarcity worldwide. It is estimated that more than 700 million people could be displaced by heightened water scarcity by 2030.

World water use has grown twice as fast as has the world’s population. In 2016, NASA came out with a mapped study revealing that 21 of the world’s major 37 water sources are distressed.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. Groundwater is our most precious resource. The Great Artesian Basin provides reliable, clean groundwater to 22% of Australia. Towns, agriculture, industry and tourism depend on these reserves.

Yet our elected representatives are willing to risk our own precious water resources for 30 pieces of silver. 

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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