Reports that the Northern Territory government would soon hand out licences for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, in the Beetaloo Basin has environmental groups up in a tizzy.

Critics say implementing all 135 recommendations in the Pepper Inquiry, which are aimed at mitigating the risks associated with any onshore gas shale development, is an impossibility despite the Territory government’s claims to the contrary.

The ABC noted that while the NT had promised to implement the recommendations by the end of 2022, 35 of them have yet to be implemented though its Environment Minister Lauren Moss claimed that all recommendations would be implemented before production begins.

Key of these recommendations is the climate safeguard, which requires the Territory to ensure there is no net increase to Australia’s emissions as a result of onshore gas development.

The last point might be a tad challenging to achieve with Australia Institute research director Rod Campbell claiming that the developers in the Beetaloo would need to purchase a third of offsets available in Australia.

Oil and gas peak body APPEA disagreed, saying that emissions could be offset by carbon, capture and storage despite the well-known issues faced by Chevron at the Gorgon LNG plant.

Beetaloo development, yay or nay?

So should the go-ahead be given for fracking in the Beetaloo Basin?

Got Gas prides itself on being practical and as neutral as possible, which also leads to a bit of wishy-washiness… but eh, whatever – the answer will be yes but with caveats. Big, honking caveats.

Assuming all else stays the same and no domestic gas reservation is forced on the LNG exporters based in Gladstone, Queensland, Australia’s east coast is facing the very real possibility of experiencing gas shortages from this year.

That means finding new sources of gas – something which really should have started years ago due to the long lead times associated with bringing gas to market – and the Beetaloo does indeed represent one source of gas.

Shale gas (and oil) has proven to be a gamechanger and developers are hoping that the shales present within the Basin can make up for the gas shortages that the east coast could well face.

As such, the NT government should indeed open up the Basin for fracking both to alleviate the east coast supply situation in the longer term and to bring some dollars into its coffers.

It must certainly ensure that these developments do not increase Australia’s emissions and ensure that every option to reduce emissions – yes, even CCS despite the uncertainty – be taken before the offset option is exercised.

Developers that break their emissions promises should be penalised accordingly and not just slapped on the wrist as often happens.

We also need to remember that any potential Beetaloo Basin development will take a substantial amount of time before it gets to market and it certainly won’t be cheap gas.

Should new developments – be it renewable energy or gas reservation – make the market less attractive for companies operating in the Basin… well, that’s an open market for you there.