Doctors to rally against fracking in Beetaloo

5 minute read

The project may have devastating health and climate effects for all Australians, doctors warn.

Doctors are heading to Canberra to voice their opposition to the contentious fracking project in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin on the basis of extensive health concerns for Australians.

“Opening up Beetaloo to fracking poses a serious health threat to everyone and should alarm doctors and all other health professionals,” said Dr Kate Wylie, who is representing Doctors for the Environment Australia at the rally tomorrow (Tuesday).

The action will also include representatives from the RACGP, RACP, AMA, ACEM, and the RANZCP and has garnered support from MPs such as Dr Monique Ryan and Senator David Pocock.

The move follows the submission of an open letter signed by over 1500 healthcare professionals in support of a plea from a group of NT paediatricians, lead by Dr Louise Woodward.

The group has called for government intervention to prevent fracking in Beetaloo Basin and to withdraw the $1.5 billion in subsidies for the Middle Arm site, an industrial precinct outside of Darwin, which is set to process the fracked gas.

Speaking to TMR, Dr Wylie expressed concerns over the effects of the fracking and gas processing on the local community, due soil contamination, air pollutants, water scarcity, among other public health risks.

“We’re looking at pregnancy complications, miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, birth defects, neural tube defects, heart defects, childhood cancer – including leukaemias – increased asthma obviously, impact for adult populations on cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, mental illness. This adds further stress to an already overstressed workforce,” Dr Wylie told TMR.

Beyond the local effects, the project is estimated to produce 117 million tonnes of CO2, which is expected to have massive knock-on climate effects.

“We’re already seeing the dire consequences of escalating climate change. In Australia, we saw two national disasters in the 2019-2020 bushfires and the 2021-2022 flooding, while Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has announced an El Niño event is “likely in the coming weeks”. Across the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, North America, and China last month, hundreds of millions of people suffered extreme heat waves, floods and fires,” said Dr Wylie.

“The UN Secretary-General has warned we’re in an era of ‘global boiling’, and the International Energy Agency, the IPCC, and scientists globally have warned that we cannot afford new fossil fuel projects,” she said.

Dr Wylie drew attention to the burden the climate effects of this project will likely have on GPs across Australia, especially in the Northern Territory.

“The impacts of [intense heat waves] on the health of the community and therefore what GPs are going to have to be dealing with on a day-to-day basis is massive.

“Heat waves mean heat exhaustion, it means heatstroke, it means deaths from heart attacks, it means cerebrovascular accidents. It means kidney failure, and it means increased suicide and increased violence.”

Beyond a call to halt the fracking project and to redirect the promised subsidies for Middle Arm to support of the health of Australians, doctors have asked that Labour keep its promise made prior to the election to hold a Senate inquiry into the Middle Arm project and release a public impact statement for the industrial precinct, only after an thorough assessment of the project is completed.

Dr Wiley expressed concern about the “dissonance” between the fracking project and the government’s efforts in formulating a national strategy to bolster the health sector in addressing the effects of climate change.

“The [fracking] in Beetaloo is going to be responsible for 22% of Australia’s emissions if it goes ahead. The healthcare sector is [responsible for] 7%. On the one hand we’re supporting a National Health and Climate Strategy – hooray for that – and then on the other hand the same government is opening up something that will directly harm the health of the local community and Australians,” she said.

“What will it take for our leaders to listen to the repeated warnings from the experts about the threat of climate change – the greatest threat to health?”

In concurrence with Dr Wylie, NT GP Dr Rosalie Schultz expressed her disappointment over the government support of the project.

“It was disappointing to hear our Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, whose party was elected because of opposition to fracking, now so out of touch with the community. Gas is not a transition fuel but fuelling climate catastrophe. Support from colleagues interstate recognises that climate change – global heating – extends far beyond NT’s borders. We need sustainable development that will sustain human wellbeing, biodiversity and justice,” she said.

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