As the wet season approaches the Northern Territory, Traditional Owners are fearful their water could become polluted because of fracking in their local area.

In the Beetaloo Basin, fracking sites by Santos, Origin and others, have been operating in the region for the last few years despite opposition by many Traditional Owners. 

Traditional Owner and Nurrdalinji Chair Johnny Wilson lives in Lightning Ridge, and says he’s worried because Santos and Origin have continued fracking right up until the start of the wet season.

“Wet season is coming, and there’ll be lots of rain and storms and flooding. We’re very concerned – we have great feelings for our Country and our water.

“The contamination that they [big gas companies] have, where they store their waste is very open, you know? Water could easily flow into it when it floods. And it would spread into our drink water,” he said.

Wilson is concerned that companies like Santos and Origin are being negligent in the way that they monitor the environment they frack in. His local community has taken to checking the quality of water for themselves.

“We need to know what is happening on Country. We need to know it firsthand instead of somebody from the second or third mob telling us. 

“Who is watching what happens during this cyclone with its big rains? It shouldn’t be up to us to monitor for pollution, but we’ve no faith that either the big gas companies of the government have an eye out or will admit when things go wrong,” he said. 

The Northern Territory Fracking Inquiry recently announced there was a real possibility that the waste storage ponds on fracking sites could flood over during this wet season. 

If the Beetaloo Basin’s water supply was to be contaminated, the outcomes would be disastrous, from drinking water supply issues, to bathing, cooking, and even raising animals.

With the Beetaloo Basin heavily reliant on their local beef industry, Wilson believes that everyone would get sick if their water was to be contaminated.

“There’s already bubbles coming out of creeks. We think where can we live? Where is our future? We can’t live on our Country [if water is bad] because water is life. Water is so essential out here.

“We can’t feed off the animals that we raise that live on the water area. The backbone of our area is our beef steak.

“These are the people that put meat in the shops, and cattle drink the water, so that steak is contaminated.

“These cattle stations would close and they’d have no hope because of what this mining mob does,” he says.

When NIT asked Wilson what he hoped the mining companies and the government would do about this issue, he said it all boiled down to doing better.

“They should guarantee us, 150 per cent, that our waters won’t be damaged.”

“The Country should stay as it is, rebuild it environmentally. And put money into these communities – we need better housing, better water systems, better protection. 

“There’s no evidence that since the last report gas companies have made wastewater storage safer, even as climate change creates more extreme weather events like Cyclone Tiffany,” he says.

Although Wilson says he isn’t aware of floods creating water contamination due to fracking before, he is confident that the waste points owed by the likes of Origin and Santos are prone to flooding at any moment. 

“We are the First Nation people of this Country, and we have lived here all our lives. These giants are coming in and taking what they want.

“Any support and help we could get from anyone out there who is listening is great. We thank you,” Johnny says.

By Imogen Kars