The Middle Arm Industrial Precinct poses a huge threat to human health, climate and the environment.
The Middle Arm Industrial Precinct proposed for Darwin Harbour (NT) has been sold as a sustainable development, but the dirty truth is, this project is designed to kickstart major new gas projects. Gas is a climate disaster. Digging up, processing and burning gas releases methane – a toxic pollutant that has more than 80 times the impact on global warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.
The Northern Territory government described Middle Arm as a “new gas demand centre” when privately pitching for public money. And despite the enormous risk to our climate, the federal government has promised $1.94 billion of public money for this polluting precinct. If Middle Arm goes ahead as planned, it poses a huge threat to our climate, adding millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere right when we need to drastically reduce climate pollution.
If it goes ahead, Middle Arm will have a major new gas processing facility and a large carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility. It’s also designed to be a major manufacturing hub for petrochemicals that are produced with gas, which risk the health of the local community.
CCS is used by the gas industry to claim that their emissions won’t count because they will be put underground; but CCS is unproven at scale and over the long term, it’s expensive and not a serious climate solution. CCS already has a track-record of failing to deliver the emissions reduction promised, and it should never be considered a solution for new fossil fuels.
Middle Arm could potentially support renewable energy-based projects. Alternatively, the $1.94 billion of public money could be used to deploy renewable energy across the NT, providing domestic energy security and bringing down electricity costs for everyday Aussies. However, the current plan for Middle Arm provides gas processing for major new polluting projects, including fracking the Beetaloo Basin. The global economy is shifting to net zero emissions and clean energy, and this development risks a safe climate and a strong, future-proofed Australian economy.
Both the NT and Commonwealth governments have labelled Middle Arm a sustainable development precinct despite its connection to polluting gas and its potential to support gas-fuelled industries. This is misleading the public about the real impacts of the project and its true environmental, climate and health costs.
If Middle Arm proceeds it should only occur with a new business case and a new environmental assessment process for a genuinely green precinct, that does not include gas processing, carbon capture and storage or petrochemicals manufacturing.
The proposed Middle Arm Precinct itself will generate 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, increasing the NT’s emissions by a whopping 75%.
But when you count emissions from projects the precinct would enable, the outcomes for our climate are catastrophic. One of the main problems with the Middle Arm plan is that it’s designed to help get new gas developments off the ground, including opening up the Beetaloo Basin and the Barossa offshore gas project that would ramp up climate damage.
Opening up the Beetaloo Basin and Barossa offshore gas developments would see Australia’s domestic and exported climate emissions skyrocket, jeopardising Australia’s ability to meet our Paris Agreement commitments, burning the bridge to a safe climate.
The Beetaloo Sub-basin is an enormous shale gas deposit 400 kilometres south of Darwin, attracting huge interest from fossil fuel companies looking to profit from extracting gas and exporting it around the world.
Estimates show that fracking in the Beetaloo Basin could produce 89 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, including emissions exported overseas. And officials in the NT have reportedly estimated that opening up the Beetaloo Basin could increase Australia’s emissions by up to 22% per year.
The proposed Santos Barossa offshore gas project, 285 km north of Darwin in the Timor Sea, contains one of the largest carbon dioxide reservoirs in the world and is one of the world’s dirtiest gas projects. If it goes ahead, it will release millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, put the marine environment at risk and disrupt traditional Tiwi practices.
Over 20 years Santos’ Barossa gas project would create around 469 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. For every tonne of LNG produced, Barossa is expected to produce 1.4 tonnes of CO2-e, triple the level of other similar gas projects. Gas from Barossa is intended to be piped to the existing Darwin LNG liquefaction facility where additional emissions will be generated through the liquefaction process. The pipeline that will connect Barossa gas to Middle Arm is also intended to cut through the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park’s habitat protection zone, destroying critical habitat, passing within 6 kilometres of the NT’s Tiwi Islands.
Senior Larrakia people say that proper engagement with First Nations people about Middle Arm’s impact on their country hasn’t happened. First Nations people are concerned the Middle Arm development could cause irreversible harm to cultural artefacts including nearby precious rock art, as well as to stories, dreaming and rituals. Concerns have also been raised about the effects the development will have on the harbour, its marine life and traditional sites used by Larrakia people for camping and fishing.
Free, prior and informed consent of First Nations people has not been given, and this project’s impacts to cultural heritage haven't been properly assessed.
The types of gas and petrochemical production planned for Middle Arm pose serious health risks to the local community.
An independent assessment of the air pollution and industrial accident risks found the proposed facilities at Middle Arm:
The pollution that would result from the complex would likely shorten the lives of the people breathing it over time, as it is closely associated with increased mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer.
Middle Arm could be a precinct that will actually help reduce climate emissions in Australia and overseas by taking advantage of Australia’s renewable energy to power processes or create products that will assist in a green transition. As the world looks to solve the climate crisis, with our natural advantages and skilled people, Australia can lead the world on renewable energy and renewable-powered exports.
If it is to proceed, Middle Arm needs a new business case for a genuinely green precinct that rules out gas processing, carbon capture and storage or petrochemicals manufacturing.
Any plan should also be backed by: