Australia: Indigenous group delays Buru


Andrew Burrell, Senior Business Reporter, The Australian –

Date of publication: 
21 July 2014

Perth – BURU Energy has failed to secure the backing of a key indigenous group in Western Australia’s Kimberley region for the company’s plans to explore for shale gas using the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”.

The Yawuru Native Title Holders Aboriginal Corporation voted against Buru’s plan to frack two wells at Yulleroo, 80km east of Broome. The vote followed a submission to a WA parliamentary inquiry in which the Yawuru, led by respected elder Patrick Dodson, said it opposed fracking on its traditional lands because of fears that the practice could contaminate water supplies.

The group said on Friday that if Buru Energy still decided to proceed with fracking on its land, the explorer “must agree to meet environmental, cultural, social and economic conditions set by Yawuru”. Because Buru’s exploration permits have been granted, the Yawuru do not have the right to negotiate under the Native Title Act and the group has no legal basis to veto Buru’s activities.

But the decision is still a setback for Perth-based Buru, which has previously promised not to go ahead with fracking unless it has broad community support.

Buru spokesman Jon Ford said there was “strong support” for Buru’s plans to create jobs and boost WA’s domestic gas supply. “Buru Energy respects the Yawuru traditional owners and we will address their concerns,” he said.

“They are one of our many important stakeholders and we look forward to continuing to work with the Yawuru community long into the future.”

Last month, Buru won the support of the Yungngora native title holders at Noonkanbah, 320km east of Broome. The group said an independent expert’s report had found Buru’s fracking plan had found the project would be a “very low risk” to their country.

Buru is the most advanced of the listed companies working in the onshore Canning Basin, which has been identified as the most prospective region for unconventional gas in the world outside the US, with about 229 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Fracking involves drilling into the earth before a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected to free gas from rocks deep underground. But some claim there is a risk that the chemicals can leak into aquifers and pollute the groundwater.

Buru last week told the ASX it had been forced to defer the $40 million fracking program until March next year due to delays in obtaining government approvals.

The Yawuru decision came a day after a Kimberley-wide meeting of Aboriginal leaders called on the WA government for a moratorium on fracking until more information was available to help make an informed decision. Wayne Bergmann, chief executive of KRED Enterprises, which works with traditional owners to develop Aboriginal businesses, said he was concerned about a lack of information on whether fracking could be done safely.