Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Today's is written by ACM national agriculture writer Chris McLennan.
There was a surprise signature on a protest letter sent to the Northern Territory government last week over its latest water plans.
The letter was co-signed Professor Barry Hart, one of the nation's top water experts.
Monash University's Prof. Hart was joined by many other water experts most of us have never heard of - Professor Sue Jackson, Professor Quentin Grafton, Professor Marcia Langton, Professor Richard Kingsford, Professor Anne Poelina among them.
These eminent folk were sufficiently roused from their academic lives to "express our concerns about the NT's approach to water planning and regulation".
"The NT's record of water planning does not meet national standards, reflected in recent departures from the principles of national water policy."
This plan had to do with the Beetaloo basin, the mooted home of Australia's energy future.
This the unlikely home of the so-called transition fuel from fossil fuels to renewable energy, through its treasure house of shale gas.
This vast resource is said to have enough gas trapped deep underground to supply the nation for hundreds of years.
The problem is that this gas can only be extracted by today's science of using the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Miners need large amounts of water for fracking, and most of the Territory's water is hidden away in the same place as the shale rock, underground.
When the NT government started its fracking adventures, it held a public inquiry to make sure it was safe.
This inquiry was launched on December 3 in 2016 when the government announced an independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing of Onshore Unconventional Reservoirs in the Territory.
You guessed it, Prof. Barry Hart was a member of that inquiry which several years later gave the go ahead to drill the Beetaloo.
As a result of that inquiry, then Chief Minister Michael Gunner lifted the Territory's 18-month blanket moratorium on fracking.
Interestingly, Mr Gunner this year resigned as Chief Minister and accepted a new job with Twiggy Forrest's Fortescue Future Industries as its northern Australia chief.
But we digress, back to the Beetaloo.
Prof. Hart and his colleagues produced a report which recommended the NT government should implement 135 recommendations in order to mitigate the risks "to acceptable levels".
"... it is the panel's opinion that, provided that all of the recommendations made in this report are adopted and implemented in their entirety, not only should the risks associated with an onshore shale gas industry be minimised to an acceptable level, in some instances, they can be avoided altogether."
Now we have advice from the nation's top water experts, including Prof. Hart, telling the NT government to change course.
"Progress in rolling out water allocation plans has been extraordinarily and unacceptably slow," they wrote.
"Current licencing primarily addresses needs of individual projects, with insufficient transparent or rigorous assessment of cumulative impacts."
The letter goes to say the scientists hold concerns about this, worries about that and none of them can sleep at night because of it, or something like that.
Basically, they want the government to stop splashing about in the water until they know what they are doing.
"Potential impacts to groundwater dependent ecosystems are completely overlooked," they wrote.
Environment groups and those long opposed to fracking, and there's quite a number in the Territory, have seized on this letter and you might imagine as fuel for their campaigns.
For all their good intentions, which are to give the ailing economy an energy industry boost, many fear the Territory government is not up to the job, and not just on water policy.
The government up there survives on handouts from the goods and services tax mostly, fracking is a complex subject.
Other states, even big economies like Victoria, keep clear of the subject in fear of a Green backlash but they have other industries to fill the Treasury coffers.
If we have a government appointee who gave the go-ahead now saying we don't like the way you are going with it, it is concerning.
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