By Matthew Doman
The natural gas industry has a long and proud history of safe and sustainable operations in the Northern Territory.
The Mereenie project west of Alice Springs Alice Springs and more recently the Blacktip project near Wadeye have been meeting NT electricity needs for almost three decades.
The continuing operations of the Darwin LNG plant and the construction of the Ichthys plant have underpinned the NT economy for several years.
Now the expansion of the onshore gas industry could become the Territory’s next great driver of economic opportunity.
Territory has vast shale gas resources
Improvements in drilling and extraction technologies mean previously inaccessible supplies of natural gas trapped in deep underground shale rock formations can now be safely developed.
The NT is said to contain one of the world’s largest supplies of shale gas – enough to potentially meet Australia’s combined domestic and export needs for a hundred years. Exploration will give us a clearer picture.
A 2015 study commissioned by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association and produced by Deloitte Access Economics suggests developing these natural gas resources would deliver real benefits to Territorians.
Jobs and development
According to the Deloitte analysis, NT shale gas production could drive significant long-term economic growth, create thousands of new jobs and generate almost billion dollars of additional government revenue over the next 20 years.
The study examined two potential growth scenarios based on developing shale and tight gas for the NT, east coast and export markets between 2020 and 2040.
Deloitte found that under the highest growth scenario examined, the cumulative increase in Gross State Product could reach $22.4 billion in net present value (NPV) terms, an increase of 37 per cent.
The same growth scenario would result in a long-term employment boost of 6,300 full time positions in the NT and additional revenues to the NT Government of up to $960 million over the next 20 years.
While still in its very early stages, shale gas could underpin a new wave of investment in the NT, delivering jobs and economic opportunities for decades to come.
It could become the industry that reinvigorates regional centres such as Alice Springs and Katherine and provides new training and employment opportunities in Indigenous communities.
It could also become a game-changer for future NT governments by delivering a new source of revenue to fund better services like hospitals and schools and develop much-needed infrastructure in the regions.
But a rigorous environmental approvals process and extensive community consultation must precede any large-scale shale gas development. The industry is committed to working with government and communities to achieve this.
The recent collapse in the international oil price had put all gas developments in Australia and around the world under pressure. The oil price will recover, but for now it is vital that proponents and governments work together to reduce costs and attract new investment.
The NT must provide a stable, secure and competitive regulatory framework if it wants to turn its shale gas resources into jobs, royalties and exports.
Achieving this would deliver significant long-term benefits for all Territorians.
Matthew Doman is APPEA’s Director — South Australia/Northern Territory.