ARC Energy Limited has signed a landmark heritage agreement this week with the Noonkanbah people which provides for oil and gas exploration on Noonkanbah land.
ARC’s exploration on Noonkanbah forms part of an extensive Canning Basin exploration program which is due to commence in August 2007 when Century Rig 18 is mobilized from the Perth Basin. ARC’s Canning Basin exploration program is currently scheduled to run for three years and to drill up to 20 exploration wells. As part of that program ARC has entered into agreements which ensure any activity by ARC is carried out in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.
This agreement enables ARC and the Noonkanbah people to conduct their relationship in a harmonious and mutually beneficial manner; it allows for recording and protection of the Yungngora people’s heritage under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) and relevant Commonwealth Heritage Legislation.
This agreement follows the major announcement on 27th April of this year of the final determination of native title over the Noonkanbah pastoral lease, presided by Justice French of the Federal Court of Australia. This was a significant day for the people of Noonkanbah, marking the end of a 27 year struggle for the recognition of the Yungngora people’s rights to hold native title rights and interests over the entirety of the Noonkanbah pastoral lease, together with a small area of unallocated crown land.
The agreement is a watershed, as Noonkanbah is remembered for the dispute that began in the late1970s, when oil company Amax signaled its intention to drill at or in the vicinity of the “goanna dreaming” site of Pea Hill, Noonkanbah. The Yungngora people of Noonkanbah – along with the then-newly formed Kimberley Land Council – launched a series of protests against the proposed drilling, despite government pressure for it to proceed. The protests were supported by church groups and the unions, and received international attention.
Permission to drill Fitzroy River No 1 was first given by the Under Secretary for Mines, Western Australia, on June 13, 1979. However, physical resistance on Noonkanbah Station and legal delays prevented drilling there in 1979. Ultimately, the Western Australian Government took over the organisation of transport for the rig, and on August 29th 1980 also assumed the role of Operator. The Government then transferred the Operator's interest back to Amax three weeks later, and the well drilling operations were completed on November 23, 1980 without further significant incident – and without any oil being found.
An important aspect of this event is that Mr Dickey Cox, who was the leader of the Yungngora People at the time of the confrontation, officiated at the signing ceremony with ARC Energy.
The company has shown the way in how agreements with indigenous people should be done, and has entered into a relationship with enduring and long-term benefits for our people – and for us to be part of its project”.