JUST two days after the Northern Territory Labor Government's new ministry was sworn in last week, they were under attack from the environmental lobby.
Following his first cabinet meeting last week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced there would be a moratorium on the practice of fracking in the NT.
Mr Gunner made the announcement at the South East Asia Australia Offshore and Onshore Conference being held in Darwin.
But while the announcement came as no surprise to the oil and gas industry, Frack-Free NT criticised the move, labelling it a "betrayal".
In a statement, the Lock the Gate Alliance said the Chief Minister's announcement was "a limited fracking moratorium" that "falls far short of his election promises and will allow extensive shale gas activities and corehole drilling to continue across the Territory".
"Before the election, Territory Labor had a fracking policy that said: 'Territory Labor will implement a moratorium covering all unconventional gas prospecting exploration and extraction activities'.
"Now, after the first cabinet meeting of the new Labor Government, the promise has been wound back to a moratorium that only covers the process of hydraulic fracturing, giving a green light to all prospecting and other shale gas exploration activities."
Naomi Hogan, from NT Lock the Gate, said the move was a "backflip".
"It's now clear that Territory Labor has backflipped on their election promise for a total pause on all unconventional gas activities," Ms Hogan said.
"This barely-there fracking moratorium is a betrayal to all the people that voted for Labor because they had promised a full pause on the gas fracking industry in the Territory."
She said the Chief Minister's decision meant pastoralists and farmers across the Territory would still have to deal with gas fracking companies pushing onto their land to clear for seismic surveys and core hole drilling.
Soon after the statement was issued by Frack-Free NT, the Chief Minister refuted the claims.
He said claims made that Territory Labor had not fulfilled its commitment to implement a moratorium on fracking were wrong.
"We have implemented a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for exploration and extraction across the whole of the Territory, while an independent scientific investigation and public consultation is undertaken," the Chief Minister said.
"It is exactly what we promised to do before the election.
"And it's exactly what I announced."
And that announcement was specific.
The moratorium came into effect on Wednesday last week, with the government announcing it "will not approve the process of hydraulic fracturing across the entire Northern Territory".
"Territory Labor was clear about our policy of a moratorium on fracking and the election result is a clear mandate to implement it," Mr Gunner said.
"We heard loud and clear the concerns of everyday Territorians, pastoralists, amateur and commercial fishermen, tourism operators, traditional owners,indigenous rangers and environmental groups.
"It's clear that Territorians are concerned about the effects of fracking on our land, water and environment. My government is acting on those concerns."
As part of the moratorium, a thorough investigation into the effects of fracking will take place.
The government said this investigation would be undertaken by an expert panel, with expertise in geology, ecology, hydrogeology, ecotoxicology, geochemistry and environmental regulation.
Draft Terms of Reference for the fracking inquiry have also been released, which will be open for public comment for four weeks.
Even while maintaining its opposition to the fracking moratorium, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) was happy with the government's announcement.
In a statement APPEA said: "The new Northern Territory Government has had a clear policy of imposing a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing to develop the Territory's onshore unconventional gas resources.
"APPEA has argued against the moratorium, but is pleased that the government is moving quickly to establish the framework for the review of the policy."
APPEA's director for the Northern Territory Matthew Doman said the industry would take time to review the draft terms of reference, but would support the inquiry and collaborate with it to ensure that information considered was factual, complete and relevant to proposed development in the NT.
"We acknowledge the new government's policy reflects concern in the community over the industry's impacts - all too often stirred up by the false and exaggerated claims of opponents," Mr Doman said.
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