Home > Santos challenged over its plans to frack the Northern Territory

Santos challenged over its plans to frack the Northern Territory

2 May 2019

2 May 2019

Shareholders and board members arriving at Santos’ annual general meeting (AGM) in Adelaide this morning were greeted by a large crowd highlighting Santos’ flagrant disregard for Indigenous land rights and a safe climate.

The company plans to open up thousands of square kilometres of the Northern Territory to fracking, including in the gas-rich Beetaloo and McArthur basins, an area that critics warn could unleash a carbon disaster bigger than the proposed Adani coal mine.  

Inside Santos’ AGM, the crowd’s sentiment was shared by shareholders and community members.

“Alawa people do not want gas mining on our land. The company has not consulted us about this proposal, or given us a fair chance to negotiate,” Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) organiser Samantha James read out on behalf of Traditional Owners. “What message do you have for Traditional Owners who are arguing that Santos have not properly consulted their communities about plans for fracking in the NT?”

In response, Santos chairman Keith Spence stated that agreements to start drilling in the NT had been reached by “free, prior and informed consent and active participation by the land council… we’re guided by the council [land council] on who to talk with. If there is a problem there we can talk about it, perhaps later on.”

Another statement on behalf of Traditional Owners was read out by AYCC’s Lilly Deluca.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the nation are already feeling the impacts of climate change, on top of concerns regarding impacts on drinking water and the destruction of sacred country, fracking in the Northern Territory would mean that those who are most vulnerable to climate change will be impacted first and worst. How does Santos claim to “recognise the science of climate change and support the objective of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees” whilst pursuing plans for fracking in the NT?”

Spence steadfastly denied Santos’ plans would lead to more warming or affect water in the region. But this was followed up immediately by a farmer worried about potential contamination of precious groundwater from fracking.

“I have a list of over 60 cattle stations that are opposed to fracking in the NT,” said Angus Ralton. “Why? Because they want to protect water…..when will you be honest with your shareholders about the unrelenting community opposition to your plans to frack the NT and sink a gasfield near Narrabri?”

“I personally feel very comfortable about what we are doing there,” replied Spence. He brushed aside the fierce opposition as a “communication problem”, conveniently forgetting the strong pushback from community members across the country which the board has witnessed at their AGM for the last three years.  

Not in line with the Paris Agreement  

Multiple reports, including from the World Energy Council, the UN International Panel for Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, now show that exploring and opening up new gas fields is totally out of line with keeping warming below 1.5 degrees.

“How does our company justify its plans to spend another $100m on exploration in 2019, when you are essentially betting shareholder capital against the goals of the Paris Agreement being met?” asked a shareholder.

“There are a number of scenarios generated by thousands of organisations,” said Spence. “We test ourselves against three scenarios by the International Energy Agency. One of those is a well below 2 degrees scenario. I don’t think it’s a 1.5 degree scenario.”

“As part of our annual process of reviewing the climate change report we will reassess our scenarios. We may well look at other scenarios including something like a 1.5C. I don’t know…” said Spence.

“I hear you…but I’m a South Australian and Friday’s news said it is the driest long spell since 1988,” the shareholder responded. “I would urge the board to consider deeply the latest IPCC report about 1.5 degrees because in fact the differential of half a degree doesn’t sound like much but it is enormous suffering and displacement of people who have done the least to cause the problems and it exposes people to life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, coastal inundation. Also the impact to the Great Barrier Reef and other resources.”

“So if I could just leave you with that, just an urge that before next year you look seriously at trying to address the 1.5 degree scenario and aligning that with your goals.”

Santos already “uninvestable”

Throughout the AGM the board kept spinning gas as a “transition fuel” and better than coal, despite not aligning their strategy to 1.5 degrees. Brynn from the ACCR challenged this narrative. “What the chairman is saying about this company’s role in advancing the goals of the Paris Agreement by replacing coal with gas is simply not how the Paris Agreement works,” she said. “Furthermore, it is not being bought by some of the most sophisticated investors in the world. This company is already seen as an uninvestable company by the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund…primarily because this company has no credible decarbonisation plan in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Indeed, that announcement by the Norwegian fund saw a combined drop of $2.5 billion in value of big Australian gas companies including Santos, Woodside, Beach Energy and Caltex in March this year.

Pressure is also mounting on both business and governments from climate protestors worldwide, with the Extinction Rebellion movement and school strikers shutting down the City of London for days on end, and the UK Parliament last night officially declaring a historic “climate emergency” – the first to do so worldwide.

While other governments are being forced to finally act on climate, it’s worth noting that Santos is Australia’s second-biggest fossil fuel donor, giving $182,083 to the major political parties in 2018.

Take action

Whether you like it or not, if you have a superannuation fund it’s very likely you have money invested in Santos. Contact your super fund and tell them to stop investing in “uninvestable” companies like Santos if they can’t align with a safe climate.