Fracking plan divisive

30/06/2014 - 09:47

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Respected Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann has launched an extraordinary attack on Buru Energy, after the oil and gas company announced a landmark agreement with the Noonkanbah Aboriginal community.

Fracking plan divisive
CRITIC: Wayne Bergmann says Buru has jumped the gun on its Kimberley fracking program.

Respected Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann has launched an extraordinary attack on Buru Energy, after the oil and gas company announced a landmark agreement with the Noonkanbah Aboriginal community.

Mr Bergmann accused Buru and its joint venture partner Mitsubishi of ‘jumping the gun” on their plans for a fracking program in the Kimberley. 

“There has been a change in the position of Buru and Mitsubishi that has left us gobsmacked,” Mr Bergmann told Business News.

“We thought we had an agreement to carry out independent testing and independent monitoring of their fracking test program.

“It’s a very tense relationship.”

Mr Bergmann is chief executive of KRED Enterprises, which represents eight native title claim groups in the region.

It does not represent the Noonkanbah community, which has reached an agreement allowing Buru to proceed with fracking at its Asgard exploration well.

Nor does KRED represent the Yawuru community, which is negotiating a similar agreement with Buru for its Yulleroo exploration wells.

Buru general manager community affairs, and former Labor government minister, Jon Ford, expressed surprise at the criticism.

He said Buru was negotiating directly with KRED for a commercial agreement over its Ungani oil

project, inland from Broome, but was not negotiating with KRED over the gas fracking program.

Mr Bergmann said his phone has been running hot since the Noonkanbah announcement, with Kimberley residents concerned about the potential impact of fracking.

“That announcement raised alarm bells,” he said.

“I don’t think they have a mandate, a social licence to carry on with their fracking.”

His comments follow persistent criticism of fracking by environmental groups.

In the face of that criticism, the Environmental Protection Authority concluded early this year that Buru’s “small scale, limited duration ‘proof of concept’ exploration proposal” did not require a formal assessment.

Environment Minister Albert Jacob and the Department of Mines and Petroleum have endorsed the Buru plans.

Buru managing director Keiran Wulff said the company had engaged with the Noonkanbah community since 2007.

The Noonkanbah community was at the centre of a major land rights dispute in the early 1980s, when it opposed oil exploration at a remote Kimberley cattle station.

Mr Wulff emphasised that the community had access to expert scientific specialists and this would continue as the project proceeds, potentially to the point where Buru became a major gas producer.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” Mr Wulff said.

“The communities will have access to their own independent advisers and they will evaluate each stage.”

He described the Noonkanbah agreement as “an endorsement of our approach to undertake the work, rather than a formal agreement with specific targets; that will come later”.

“It’s pleasing but there is still a long way to go,” Mr Wulff said.

Before taking on the role at KRED Enterprises, Mr Bergmann was director of the Kimberley Land Council, where he played a key role in negotiating a $1.5 billion agreement that was meant to pave the way for the James Price Point gas hub near Broome.

Despite the collapse of the James Price Point agreement after Woodside decided to move its gas project offshore, he said “development at any cost” was not an option.

“The risk is too great, we need adequate assurance,” he said.

Mr Bergmann told Business News he didn’t have faith in the review conducted by the EPA or government, saying there would be very limited monitoring by government.

He claimed the underground river system that ran through the Kimberley meant the chemicals pumped into the ground at one location could spread across the region.

Buru said the measures taken to manage its fracking program included the use of a hydraulic fracturing fluid that was rapidly biodegradable and non-toxic.

The fracking process involves pumping water, sand and other fluids more than 2,000 metres below the surface to stimulate gas flows.

It is focused on the Laurel ‘tight gas’ formation, and will be used to evaluate the potential for commercial development.

Mr Wulff said Buru and Mitsubishi would spend between $40 million and $50 million on the fracking program.

He said the company was still looking for an appropriate strategic partner to take a stake in the gas assets.

“We’re funded through the initial program so we’re not in a rush,” Mr Wulff said.

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