Minister for Resources and Water, the Hon. Keith Pitt MP, has confirmed his intention to continue to progress the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program which provides entities in Australia with funding to accelerate exploration and appraisal activities in the Beetaloo Sub-Basin, located approximately 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin in the Northern Territory.
On 7 July 2021, Minister Pitt announced that three grants to Imperial Oil and Gas would provide up to $21 million to support three new exploration wells in the company’s EP187 exploration zone in the basin’s east.
The Environment Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT) lodged an application to the Federal Court of Australia on 28 July 2021 to have the drilling program and associated grant decisions set aside. The matter is currently progressing through Federal Court processes.
ECNT’s court proceedings challenge the lawfulness of the Minister’s decision to grant up to $21 million of taxpayer money to Imperial Oil and Gas.
ECNT’s proceedings argue that the Minister was required to make reasonable inquiries into a range of matters before giving the company millions of dollars of taxpayer money, including how exploitation of the Beetaloo Sub-Basin would impact climate change and Australia’s ability to meet its Paris Agreement obligations.
On Tuesday, Minister Pitt said the drilling program is a key measure under the Beetaloo Strategic Basin Plan and is crucial to the Federal Government’s Gas Fired Recovery agenda.
“I have requested my department to proceed with the grant to Imperial Oil and Gas that I announced on 7 July 2021,” he said.
“It is important that we continue to get on with the job. This project, along with other activity in the Beetaloo Basin, has the potential to create over 6,000 jobs and make a significant contribution to secure Australia’s affordable and reliable energy supplies.”
“I have also instructed my department to continue with the assessment of other applications to the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program.”
Kirsty Howey, Co-Director of ECNT, noted the Minister’s announcement and responded:
“ECNT’s case raises important questions as to the lawfulness of the Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program, including the grant of up to $21 million to Imperial Oil and Gas by Minister Pitt, and the appropriateness of directing public money to gas companies to accelerate fossil fuel extraction in the Northern Territory.
“This is a case of immense public importance. All Australians are invested in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used wisely and with all the consequences being fully considered. Granting $21 million to a private fossil fuel company should only be done after all care is taken to examine the impacts of climate change, the environment and the community. It is not apparent to ECNT that this has occurred.
“ECNT notes that the case is still ongoing, and has not yet been heard by the Federal Court.
“We would have expected – and had requested – Minister Pitt to delay gifting money under the program until these important legal questions of public importance are determined.”