In a major victory for community pressure and investor activism, Origin Energy announced yesterday that they would divest 100 per cent of their gas interests in the Northern Territory’s massive Beetaloo Basin, along with fracking plans in the Lake Eyre Basin and WA’s Kimberley region.
Origin CEO Frank Calabria said, ‘The decision to divest our interest in the Beetaloo and exit other upstream exploration permits over time, will enable greater flexibility to allocate capital towards our strategic priorities to grow cleaner energy and customer solutions, and deliver reliable energy through the transition.’
Origin is expected to lose $90m on its deal with the smaller company Tamboran over Beetaloo gas, but the terms of the contract mean they still stand to profit if the smaller company finds a way to exploit the resource.
Activists claim partial victory
GetUp said ten years of unrelenting community pressure have pushed Origin to abandon this ‘risky, loss-making venture’, with Traditional Owners, pastoralists and communities across the country fighting the energy giant ‘every step of the way, saying they don’t consent to the fracking project that destroys cultural heritage, water and the climate.’
They say the fight to protect land rights is far from over, however.
Traditional Owner Nicholas Fitzpatrick said, ‘We’ve been telling Origin we don’t want fracking on our land that would destroy our aquifers, cultural heritage and contribute to climate change.
‘This fight won’t stop here. We don’t want Tamboran coming in here and fracking our country.
‘They need to respect our demands and end fracking in the Beetaloo.’
GetUp CEO Larissa Baldwin said, ‘Projects like these require billions of dollars of taxpayers money to get off the ground and when we’re faced with increased natural disasters caused by climate change, fracking is not safe, viable or responsible for any company or government to back.
‘Despite the warnings, Origin still wants to profit off fracking in the Beetaloo while wiping their hands clean of the risk and the mess,’ she said.
‘Tamboran should be ready for a fight. They have a dodgy history of ignoring Traditional Owners, destroying Country and taking public money to prop up their risky projects,’ said Ms Baldwin.
The Protect Country Alliance said Origin Energy’s decision to abandon fracking plans in the Northern Territory, Queensland’s Lake Eyre Basin, and WA’s Kimberley region is testament to the effectiveness of a grassroots campaign which refused to accept the company’s attempts to destroy land and water.
Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said the company’s decision wasn’t surprising, given the unrelenting opposition to fracking from the Territory community.
‘Territorians have never supported fracking, and Origin’s decision to sell off its tenements shows that finally, after many years of us trying to tell them this, they’ve finally listened,’ he said.
‘However, we remain concerned that Origin has sold its tenements to Tamboran – a company that refused to even attend the Senate Inquiry into fracking in the Territory.’
No future in gas?
Mr Sawyer said, ‘The fact they are making huge losses in the Beetaloo is a testament to the difficulties of developing this basin. It is an economic disaster as well as an environmental one.
‘This will serve as a warning to others thinking the Beetaloo can be made into a viable gas precinct.
‘What Origin’s decision also shows is there is no money to be made in fracking the Territory – companies like Origin don’t make these decisions to be environmentally or socially friendly – and we hope Tamboran, as well as other companies active in the Territory soon come to the same conclusion and pack their bags.’
Relentless reputational damage
Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Ellen Roberts said Origin’s decision reflected the broader financial shift away from fossil fuel projects.
‘Origin has suffered relentless reputational damage over its fracking projects, including in the Northern Territory. They’ve faced pressure from their investors, staff and Origin customers who want to see investment decisions in line with a safe climate,’ she said.
‘This reflects the shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and climate action as investors and energy customers increasingly demand companies align with the Paris Agreement.
‘It’s also hugely encouraging to see Origin abandon exploration tenements in the Channel Country floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin in Queensland, and in WA’s Kimberley region,’ said Ms Roberts.
‘But it’s extremely disappointing that Origin plans to proceed with its APLNG project, which includes plans to drill 7,700 new coal seam gas wells north of Roma and in Queensland’s Central Highlands, including on the border of the world-renowned Carnarvon National Park.
‘If Origin was serious about its climate targets and its environmental responsibilities, it would abandon these projects too,’ she said.