Beetaloo must be the line in the sand for Australia

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“Why are the Northern Territory people being sacrificed for the sake of fossil fuel company profits?”
~ Dr Louise Woodward

Dr Louise Woodward’s call from the Northern Territory to Australia:

“My name is Louise Woodward. I’m a paediatrician working in the Northern Territory and I’m speaking to you today to ask for your help. Our government has greenlighted fracking the Beetaloo Basin which is a beautiful area in the outback just south of Catherine.

Fracking the Beetaloo Basin will increase Australia’s emissions by 20 per cent, just this single project, putting all of our health at risk in terms of the climate crisis – but also putting the local people of the Northern Territory at risk due to direct health impacts of fracking.

These occur due to contamination of groundwater as well as the air around it. This puts people at risk of things like asthma, pregnancy complications, as well as stillbirth and pre-term birth. These are complications that we already see so much in the Northern Territory. We have some of the worst health outcomes in Australia, and we cannot afford to make them worse.

To make it even worse, the Northern Territory government is planning to open a massive gas processing facility in Darwin called Middle Arm where they will process Beetaloo gas and turn it into LNG for export overseas as well as petrochemicals. Now I’m sure everyone knows that petrochemicals are dangerous to human health.

They are planning on making these only three kilometres from population centres in Darwin, putting people at risk of cancer. We know that people living within five kilometres of petrochemical facilities have a 30 per cent increased risk of leukemia. People living near gas processing facilities also suffer lung infections, asthma, heart disease, and increased rates of death.

Why is the Federal Government funding this project to the tune of $1.9 billion dollars? And why is the Northern Territory government facilitating projects that are actually going to harm their local people?

Why are the Northern Territory people being sacrificed for the sake of fossil fuel company profits? – particularly in the midst of a climate crisis. There is no safe way to frack the Beetaloo Basin, and certainly no safe way to process any more gas in the midst of a climate crisis.

Up here in the Northern Territory we need the help of everyone in Australia – to come together and tell the Federal Government that this is not okay. We need to deal with the climate crisis urgently, and we need to stop the Middle Arm project and Beetaloo fracking if we are to have any hope of addressing climate change – and if we are to protect the people of the Northern Territory from the known health impacts of these dangerous projects.”

“At the heart of this conflict is a battle between truth and science – and power and lies.”
~ Senator Whitehouse

9 September Melbourne Town Hall meeting:
No more fossil fuel projects

We’re stepping up together to stop our government’s funding of irresponsible profit-driven climate-wrecking carbon bombs.

The community is the key in pressuring the politicians who are supposed to represent us. They need reminding that they should be looking after their constituents and not the fossil fuel companies.

Some day, fossil fuel companies will be seen in the same way as tobacco companies. That day must be soon. Time is running out.

If you live in Ballarat area, Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, is your local member. She is allocating $1.9 billion to the Middle Arm development in the Northern Territory.

→ You can join and support Dr Louise Woodward’s call here:

→ If you live in Victoria, come to the Melbourne Town Hall Emergency Meeting on 9 September 2023

Listen to Dr Louise Woodward’s call on all Australians to put pressure on their local Member of Parliament in The Sustainable Hour:

This 16-minute podcast interview with Dr Louise Woodward is part of The Sustainable Hour podcast no. 474

Transcript of The Sustainable Hour’s interview with Dr Louise Woodward

Mik Aidt: “In the Sustainable Hour today, we have Dr Louise Woodward. She’s a paediatrician in Darwin, and she’s the one who initiated this open letter, which outlined the health concerns about fracking – as it’s called, the drilling for gas – in the Northern Territory. And she led a whole delegation of doctors to Canberra. We saw you, Louise, on the news. It was actually reported in the mainstream news, wasn’t it? So great to have you on board here today. And let’s hear an update. What has happened since then and so on?”

Dr Louise Woodward: “Thank you. The story started with our chief minister in the Northern Territory greenlighting fracking in the Beedaloo Basin. And that really concerned me and my colleagues, in the territory because we know that fracking has significant health impacts to the local population and also will have significant impacts on climate change. And the Northern Territory is on the front line of the climate crisis.

We were very concerned that our government here in the Northern Territory was going to massively increase the Northern Territory’s emissions – and Australia’s emissions. So we wrote her a letter from all the paediatricians in the Northern Territory, but we really didn’t feel that our concerns were taken seriously.

So that’s when we decided to write a letter to the Prime Minister with our concerns. And we opened it up to health professionals from across Australia and had an amazing response. I think over 2,300 health professionals signed on to our letter, which we then took to Canberra to present to him personally. Well, we were hoping to present to him personally. We got to his advisor. And so hopefully he received it.”

Mik Aidt: “What did you say in the letter?

Dr Louise Woodward: “In the letter we raised the health concerns of fracking and of the Middle Arm development. Fracking has a number of local impacts to the environment, which affect people as well. There can be contamination from fracking of the air as well as soil, and then the groundwater. We’ve researched in the United States. Mostly where a lot of this type of shell fracking occurs, populations in those fracking regions have much poorer health outcomes. So a particular concern of pregnancy complications, low birth weight, stillbirths, congenital abnormalities, and there’s also problems with increased asthma severity, heart disease, and increased general mortality for populations around fracking wells.

We really didn’t think that that had been taken into account, and we didn’t think that the regulations put in place by the Northern Territory Government were adequate to protect people.

Then this gas is going to be piped up to Darwin to the Middle Arm Precinct, which has been called the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct, which is actually a complete misnomer because a large fortune of it will be fossil fuel industries. So the Beetaloo gas will be processed by Tamboran into LNG.

They are also trying to get approval for petrochemical factories to be placed in this Middle Arm precinct. The processing of LNG causes cumulative air pollution as well as contamination to water as well. The air pollution is particularly significant for LNG production, and we’ve already got a lot of LNG production here in Darwin, so an extra facility is only going to further impact the air quality in Darwin.

And so for LNG processing, it produces particulate matter, as well as lots of other toxic compounds, which can travel actually many kilometres. And we’ve got population centres only three kilometers from Middle Arm. This can cause increased asthma, again, lung disease, increased susceptibility to infection, as well as pregnancy complications and can increase the risk of cancer, because a lot of these compounds are carcinogenic. And then you’ve got the petrochemicals, which, as everyone knows, are really a disaster near population centres. “Cancer Alley” is the nickname of the area in Louisiana, in the Mississippi River, where a lot of petrochemical facilities are all clustered together and have caused serious health impacts to the local people.

There’s some really strong evidence coming out from around the world, which shows an increased rate of leukemia. 30 to 58 per cent in populations within five kilometres of petrochemical facilities. So having thousands of people living within that five kilometre range, and be exposed to this kind of risk is really… We feel it is completely unacceptable, particularly since we need to be reducing our carbon emissions and decarbonising. For the Northern Territory Government to come out and say that they are decarbonising and somehow, Middle Arm is going to be the key to getting to net zero is just completely outrageous. We really wanted to to highlight this.

Mik Aidt: “What really outrages me is that we, the taxpayers, are funding it with what is it like one and a half billion dollars. That’s $1,500 million of taxpayer money going into this project.”

Dr Louise Woodward: “Yes, it’s actually even more than that. It’s $1.9 billion. And it is absolutely… We did not understand why, which is why we wanted to go to Canberra to actually ask the Labor government why they’re doing this.

The answer we got from them was that they were funding infrastructure for the precinct, which will also include some renewable industries. Actually, this infrastructure is for the gas industry. Let’s just be honest here. It’s for dredging and for building walls, which will pay for… So this is for the fossil fuel industry, this money, it’s a hangover from the Morrison era of gas aid recovery, and we really can’t comprehend why the Labor government is continuing with this process.

Colin Mockett OAM: “While you were talking, I was listening, but I was also looking up who, which company is fracking in the Northern Territory, and it’s Empire Energy. And Empire Energy donates large amounts to both major political parties. So that’s your answer on Why. And it also explains just how, I don’t know what you would call it, two-faced or schizophrenic our government is at the moment, in that it makes all the right noises with the Treasurer last week saying that “if we’re going to look for the future in his generational report, we have to address global warming.” And then at the same time, they’re funding things like this. It just makes no sense. The fact that you were… pushed off to one of the PM’s advisors and given a political speak-piece of “polly waffle” speaks an awful lot about our government, doesn’t it?”

Dr Louise Woodward: Yes, unfortunately it does. Certainly, Tamboran is the kind of company that will be doing the LNG processing and the fracking. I think maybe they’re owned by energy… Um, and certainly their CEO has been getting a lot of their time talking about how wonderful their company is and how they will be saving us all from climate change when, when really the statements he’s making are absolutely false.

It’s quite interesting in that, you know, the way they’re using terms such as ‘circular economy’ to describe, what’s going on in Middle Arm because they’ve got carbon capture and storage there. And so, they’re claiming that they’ll be able to capture all the emissions, scope one. Emissions from the gas processing, which will then make it net zero, which is just, it doesn’t make any sense scientifically and the co-opting of the kind of green language to greenwash… This whole thing is really, really outrageous.

We felt in Canberra when we were speaking to the government and when we heard the debates on the Senate inquiry into Middle Arm, which both David Pocock and the Greens introduced into the Senate – and also Monique Ryan into the House – when that was debated, we really felt that the people of the Northern Territory are being sacrificed by both the Federal government and the Northern Territory government.

I think there’s an understanding that there had to be sacrifices to enable the Northern Territory to achieve a $40 billion economy. I don’t feel that the health of the local people should be sacrificed for anything at all. And particularly something that will impact so profoundly on the climate crisis.”

Mik Aidt: “But Louise, if we’re very honest about what’s happening with the climate, don’t you think that these politicians already have written off the Northern Territory for another reason, which is that that area will be unlivable? It will be so hot that the people in in your area will become refugees. They will seek southward. And then in the end, there will only be these people who are working in these industrial sites left.”

Dr Louise Woodward: Yes. Absolutely. That’s exactly what will happen. Already, we’re having more and more days, which are called… we call them heat stress days. So days over 34°C degrees when it’s very humid are actually life threatening because you can’t cool down. Over there in Victoria when it gets hot, it’s also dry. So you actually can cool down with a fan, by getting wet. But in the Territory, when it’s very humid, it’s not possible to cool down with a fan. The only way to cool down is with air conditioning. And there’s a whole lot of people living in the Northern Territory who do not have access to air conditioning to cool down, and their lives will be in danger.

I want to know what the plan is for all those people.”

Colin Mockett OAM: “What was the traditional owner’s method? I mean, I know that they gather in groups under trees. Do they have any other method of surviving the ultra heat that you get up there?”

Dr Louise Woodward: “Yes, we can learn a lot from our First Nations people. There’s a study that has been released by Dr Simon Quilty regarding heat stress in the Northern Territory, and he did look at how First Nations people cope with the heat and certainly, you know, they don’t do strenuous activity during the hot hours of the day. That’s the time where you rest, and stay away from the sun in whatever way you can find shade and shelter. The strenuous activities are done in the early morning or the evening when the sun is less intense and the heat has settled. But he found that even with the methods that they use to cool, there’s still an increased rate of illness and mortality with the increasing heat that we’re seeing in the Northern Territory.

So, this is still going to be a major issue, even if we take all the proportions.”

Mik Aidt: “Here in Melbourne, on the 9th of September [2023], there’s a climate emergency town hall meeting in Melbourne. And I know the Beetaloo is up high on the agenda there. People want to talk about this and they also want to know: what can we do? How can we stop this? Is it already too late? Is it going to roll out? Is this $1.9 billion dollars you talk about already signed off? How can we help in preventing this from happening?”

Dr Louise Woodward: “Absolutely, there is. It’s not too late. We can all do something to stop it. That’s why we’ve taken the stand against it, you know, with the risk to our jobs by coming out publicly. For Middle Arm has not been signed off yet, so the federal government can absolutely be pressured, and they should be pressured. Any Labor politician should be… you know, you can visit your local member, but actually even if your local member is not a Labor politician, any politician should know that the communities down south – we call them “down south”, interstate – do care about us in the Northern Territory. We really need everyone interstate to go and visit their local MP and show that this issue matters. And this will be an election issue for the next federal election. I think that will be the only thing that will make them make a better decision.

You know, they do not have to do this. This is a conscious decision the Federal government has made. It’s a conscious decision that puts the people of the Northern Territory at major, major risk.”

Colin Mockett OAM: “Well, we’re with you all the way there, Louise. And our local member is the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. It’s difficult to get his mind away from submarines.”

Dr Louise Woodward: “Gosh, I think as well, what would $1.9 billion do for the Northern Territory if it was given directly to the community and not to the gas companies? I mean, as a doctor, I can think of so many things that we could do to improve our health system, which is really on its knees up here already. And housing is a major issue, education… you know, we need that money for our people, not for the gas companies.”

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Petition to Minister Plibersek to get urgent reforms so that the impacts of shale gas fracking on water sources is independently assessed under national environment laws.
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→ Medical Republic – 7 August 2023:
Doctors to rally against fracking in Beetaloo

→ ABC News – 8 August 2023:
NT doctors and parents protest against Beetaloo fracking and Middle Arm Project at Parliament House
“The delegation of parents and health professionals say the Top End is on the frontline of the climate crisis. Holding signs that read “do no harm”, “our children need a safe climate” and “no taxpayers $$ for coal and gas”, more than 100 people joined the protest outside Parliament House.”

→ ABC News – 3 August 2023:
Scientists send joint letter to NT government calling for ban on fracking in Beetaloo Basin
“Scientists call for an end to new fracking in the NT, warning it will add 89 million tonnes of emissions to the atmosphere annually. They say the NT government “failed” to keep its promise to implement all Pepper Inquiry recommendations. One scientist says a rise in emissions from the industry will intensify bushfire seasons, floods and accelerate the death of coral reefs.”

→ The Conversation – 28 August 2023:
Indigenous rangers are collaborating to stop the wrong kind of intense fires from raging
”Fire authorities are warning up to 80% of the Northern Territory could burn this fire season.” 

→ The Guardian – 3 May 2023:
Northern Territory clears way for fracking to begin in Beetaloo Basin
“Environmental groups and scientists say move will have an unacceptable impact on the climate and have called for ban.”

→ ABC News – 20 April 2023:
Beetaloo Basin Senate inquiry report recommends further scrutiny of Middle Arm industrial hub proposal
“Dozens of scientists, lawyers, pastoralists, traditional owners and gas industry representatives have given evidence detailing the possible outcomes of commercial gas production in the basin. Many voiced concerns over the resulting increase in carbon emissions and potential risks to local groundwater and ecosystems.

End Fossil Fuels – global marches on 15 and 17 September 2023

As world leaders gather at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, millions around the world will take to the streets to demand the rapid, just, and equitable end of fossil fuels.

→ Find an #EndFossilFuels action near you or add your own event to the map today.

#FrackFreeAustralia #GasFreeAustralia #FossilFreeAustralia #StopBetaloo #ClimateForAll #AllForClimate #ClimateSafety #Letition #EndFossilFuels