UniSuper: don’t light the fuse on the Beetaloo fracking carbon bomb

APA Group (APA) is Australia’s largest gas pipeline operator. The company is planning to construct several pipelines to support extensive fracking in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin by gas companies Empire Energy and Tamboran Resources. As the largest shareholder in APA, UniSuper could use its influence to push the company out of these climate damaging gas projects.

Last month Market Forces wrote to the CEO of UniSuper Peter Chun and CIO John Pearce warning them about the environmental, social, reputational and financial risks both APA and UniSuper will be exposed to if APA builds pipelines needed to transport gas from the Beetaloo Basin. We called on UniSuper to take a public position against APA’s plans to develop pipelines in the Beetaloo, and use its leverage to advocate for an end to these plans. We gave UniSuper a month to respond to these concerns.

Disappointingly, UniSuper has not responded to this letter. But with enough support from members like you, the fund will have to act. Will you join the movement of UniSuper members calling on the fund to use its massive near 10% shareholding to pressure APA to ditch these disastrous fracking projects?

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TOOK ACTION: Open letter to UniSuper regarding APA - June 2024

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UniSuper is uniquely placed to influence APA. The fund claims to be pursuing an ‘active ownership’ strategy to meet its climate commitments, which means that it should be using its influence as a shareholder to push back against climate wrecking projects like APA’s gas pipelines in the Beetaloo.

UniSuper has committed to “working with companies to reduce real-world emissions and accelerate the transition,” to “contribute to a 43% reduction in Australia’s emissions by 2030” and reach net zero portfolio emissions by 2050. These commitments cannot be met unless UniSuper is willing to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure APA does not light the fuse on the Beetaloo carbon bomb. 

Protesters call on APA to not enable fracking in the Northern Territory. Photo credit: GetUp

Protesters call on APA to not enable fracking in the Northern Territory. Photo credit: GetUp

APA’s proposed pipelines for Empire Energy and Tamboran Resources in the Northern Territory. The scale of these projects is enormous: Tamboran’s projects alone could unleash emissions equivalent to running an Eraring-sized coal power station for 194 years.

APA proposed pipelines for Tamboran Resources

APA’s proposed pipelines for Tamboran

APA proposed pipelines for Empire Energy

APA’s proposed pipelines for Empire

The Beetaloo carbon bomb is incompatible with climate goals

Developing any new gas field, let alone the gargantuan Beetaloo Basin, is incompatible with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, which UniSuper claims to support. The International Institute for Sustainable Development has found that “according to a large consensus across multiple modelled climate and energy pathways, developing any new oil and gas fields is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C”.

Similarly, the IPCC states the “projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C.”

Market Forces initial analysis suggests if Empire and Tamboran were to achieve their full – admittedly optimistic – Beetaloo production forecasts by 2030, APA’s potential involvement could cancel out the company’s 30% reduction target multiple times over. For APA to meet its 2030 target, it would therefore need to significantly increase reliance on carbon offsets beyond already exceedingly high levels.

Due to the sheer scale of the Beetaloo developments, projected potential emissions near the total combined emissions from the five projects currently under construction by Australia’s largest oil and gas companies, Woodside and Santos.

Comparison of Beetaloo potential emissions with Woodside and Santos projects

Traditional Owner and local opposition

How does the consultative committee work?

Traditional Owners including the Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, as well as local farmers and landholders, have voiced vehement opposition to the Beetaloo fracking plans, including concerns about risks to groundwater in the Cambrian Limestone Aquifer, which sustains local livelihoods and ecosystems.

An unreleased report commissioned by the Morrison government found Traditional Owners were unlikely to gain economic, social, cultural or other benefits from fracking plans in the Beetaloo region.

Chair of Nurrdalingji, Djingili Elder Samuel Sandy has stated:

“Thousands of wells across our country will do untold damage to our culture, our water, our sacred sites. Once done, it can’t be undone. What we want is no fracking. Fracking is already destroying our country and Tamboran has already been found to be cutting corners and polluting our water. We want the gas companies to pack their bags and go home, so we can live in peace and protect our trees, our plants, our animals, our birds, our water.”

UniSuper’s Reconciliation Action Plan recognises “an opportunity to learn from the wisdom, cultures and customs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”.

In September 2023, independent expert and UN Special Rapporteur Marcus Orellana criticised the Beetaloo Basin gas plans over climate, human rights and environmental concerns. A full report will be published in September this year.

Recently, news broke that Empire Energy “failed to report a find of ancient Indigenous stone tools near one of its [gas] exploration wells to the [Northern Territory’s] heritage regulator.” It was also reported that Empire had made other breaches of its project conditions, including “spilling drilling mud, allowing wastewater storages to fill up too high, storing wastewater in dams and tanks with leaks and tearing in linings, building gravel pits outside approved areas, and not checking for endangered Gouldian finches before land clearing.”