A Chinese-backed agribusiness has had its right to extract a record amount of groundwater from arid Central Australia upheld, following a decision from the Northern Territory government. 

Key points:

  • The licence was originally granted in April but was subject to a formal review process
  • Several key amendments include an assessment of the aquifer and changes to how the project is staged 
  • The company hopes to eventually extract 40,000 megalitres from the station, 400km north of Alice Springs

Minister Kate Worden, acting as a delegate for the Minister for Environment, has re-granted a licence to Fortune Agribusiness to eventually extract 40,000 megalitres of water a year from Singleton Station, 400 kilometres north of Alice Springs. 

The size of the licence has not been changed but several new conditions have been added. 

The licence was originally granted in April but was subject to a formal review process amid concerns raised by traditional owners and environment groups

Singleton Station

The review panel recommended the first stage be increased from two to five years.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

As part of the review process, a panel of groundwater experts met with concerned stakeholders and authored a report for the Minister

In a statement, Ms Worden said the review panel agreed with the NT’s Water Controller that the licence should be granted. 

“But suggested further conditions be placed on the licence, meaning the original water extraction licence has now been set aside.”

Eva Lawler, the Minister for Environment, elected to delegate the licence decision following concerns from the Environmental Defenders Office that she had a conflict of interest in the matter, given she had already reviewed the licence as part of the approvals process. 

The licence’s approval follows revelations the government negotiated a change in water rules that allowed Fortune’s Singleton Station licence to proceed. 

A rule which previously allowed no water-dependent ecosystems to be damaged by a new licence holder was changed, instead allowing 30 per cent of them to be impacted. 

Amended conditions

The review panel recommended the licence be granted but with several key amendments, including a detailed assessment of the aquifer and changes to how the project was staged. 

The original licence was granted in four two-year stages, with the company required to meet reporting requirements to progress to the next stage. 

Under the amended conditions, the first stage of the licence has been increased from two years to three. 

The review panel recommended the first stage be increased to five years. 

Fortune Agribusiness will also now have to complete a cultural values impact assessment and carry out a detailed assessment of the water resources on Singleton Station, which includes more testing to better understand the aquifer. 

The company will also have to demonstrate the developed area does not result in unacceptable impact on water-dependent cultural values. 

“Failure by the proponent to meet licence conditions could result in water being withheld or returned to the consumptive pool,” Ms Worden said. 

“The project must also obtain land clearing and non-pastoral use permit approvals, and will be required to be referred to the NT EPA for assessment under the Environment Protection Act before any water can be extracted.”

Posted , updated 

NT re-approves controversial water licence with new conditions
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