17 October 2018
Traditional owners travelled all the way from the Northern Territory for Origin Energy’s annual general meeting (AGM) today in Sydney to challenge the company that wants to frack their land.
Since the Northern Territory scrapped its fracking ban in April, Origin have doubled down on their efforts to begin drilling in the Beetaloo basin 500 km south-east of Darwin. The project could release four to five times as much greenhouse gas emissions as the proposed Adani Carmichael mine, according to one leading researcher.
Traditional owners expressed heartfelt concern about the impacts of fracking upon their land and daily lives, and in particular on precious water aquifers.
“Can you guarantee our aquifers will not be contaminated after you’ve fracked the Northern Territory?” asked Nicholas Fitzpatric, a traditional owner from the Barkly region and member of SEED, the indigenous youth network.
“We are aware of the concern around fracking. There is… a lot of misinformation around fracking,” said chair Gordon Cairns.
“The scientific evidence and the experience from the last 40 years would suggest that while there are no cast-iron guarantees in anything, that you can rest assured that the impact on the water table has been thought about, and measures are in place to secure it.”
In short – it isn’t something Origin can guarantee.
Free, prior and informed consent
Origin was adamant they had obtained “free, prior and informed consent” from traditional owners via the Northern Land Council. GetUp campaigner Larissa Baldwin, who was part of the independent fracking enquiry, told Origin’s board she had brought traditional owners from across remote communities to tell their stories and give evidence at the enquiry.
She explained how gas companies like Origin don’t often give full information to traditional owners or use translators to translate such materials into local languages. There was also much misinformation happening among traditional owners, a point included in the inquiry’s final report.
Indeed, the chair of the fracking enquiry had asked Origin specifically what consultation process it went through and what materials it had used – to which Origin never responded.
Larrissa asked why Origin had never provided that information.
Chairman Gordon Cairns admitted that “something has gone wrong here between what we have done and what we have committed to doing.” He committed to giving this information via the Northern Land Council, and to meeting directly with some of the traditional owners who expressed their concerns today.
A resolution put forward by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) backed the traditional owners’ claims, asking Origin to carry out and make public a thorough review of whether there was ‘free, prior and informed consent’ of Aboriginal traditional owners affected by Origin’s fracking operations.
Two other ACCR resolutions lodged asked Origin to align its interim emissions targets with the Paris 2°C climate goal, and to review whether climate advocacy positions taken by industry lobby groups that Origin belongs to are consistent with those goals.
A whopping 46% of shareholders voted in favour of Origin disclosing more details about membership in powerful lobby groups like the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. This is one of the highest such votes in history – despite Origin’s board asking shareholders to vote against this resolution.
A whopping 46% of shareholders voted in favour of Origin being more transparent about its membership of anti-climate lobby groups
Out of touch targets
Also under scrutiny today was Origin’s emission reduction targets and whether the company is acting within the Paris climate goal to keep global warming to well below 2°C.
“How does the board reconcile the misalignment of outcomes from these various schemes?” asked one shareholder. “For example, Australia’s 2030 target is consistent with a 3ºC or more global warming outcome.”
The board’s response was that Origin’s targets would be in line with Australia’s 2030 goal “at a minimum”. This doesn’t give a lot of comfort when a recent report by Climateworks has found that Australia’s energy targets could be on track to lead us to 3 degrees of warming!
Contributing to these emissions is Origin’s Eraring coal-fired power station, the biggest in the country. Yet when a shareholder asked whether Origin would close Eraring before 2032, the answer was no.
What came across clearly at Origin’s AGM today was the gulf between what the company say they are doing and what they are actually doing.