THREE weeks ago, the Yawuru people of the Kimberley were jubilant after winning control of a $15 million slice of their traditional lands, including the sprawling Roebuck Plains Station near Broome.
The deal gave Yawuru native title holders the power to promote economic development and delivered them greater rights to control access to the land.
But about the same time, on the outskirts of Roebuck Plains, a group of Yawuru people led by traditional owner Micklo Corpus set up a camp to protest against plans by Buru Energy to “frack” two wells for shale gas on their land.
Buru’s bid to push ahead with exploration at Yulleroo, 80km east of Broome, threatens to become the next flashpoint in the Kimberley after green groups and some indigenous elders campaigned against Woodside Petroleum’s planned gas plant at James Price Point last year.
Mr Corpus said the protest — next to a highway outside the Buru site — would last through the upcoming wet season and as long as it took to stop Buru from carrying out its fracking program, citing fears that the process could contaminate water supplies.
“My role as a custodian is to look after our country,” he said.
Mr Corpus revealed that Buru had attempted to enter the site on the second day of the protest but he had blocked the way and prevented a company vehicle from entering. Buru called the police, who issued Mr Corpus with a “move on” notice. He complied with the notice but returned to the site the following day.
In July, Buru suffered a major blow when it failed to secure the formal backing of the Yawuru Native Title Holders Aboriginal Corporation.
But because Buru’s exploration permits have been granted, the Yawuru do not have the right to negotiate under the Native Title Act and the group has no legal basis to veto Buru’s activities.
Perth-based Buru has previously promised not to go ahead with fracking unless it has broad community support. A spokesman for Buru said the protest activity would have no effect on its exploration program.
“Protesters are exercising their democratic rights and we support people’s rights to put forward their view, but we ask people to act safety,” the spokesman said.
“The protest is on a busy highway and access road to a working pastoral station.”
Buru is the most advanced of the listed companies working in the onshore Canning Basin, which has been identified as the most prospective region for unconventional gas in the world outside the US, with about 229 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Fracking involves drilling into the earth before a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected to free gas from rocks deep underground. But some claim there is a risk that the chemicals can leak into aquifers and pollute the groundwater.