All eyes turn to the Beetaloo, the nation's El Dorado

A shale gas test well in the Beetaloo, previously cattle country at best.
A shale gas test well in the Beetaloo, previously cattle country at best.

A Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised a "gas-led recovery" from the coronavirus recession by making sure Australian manufacturers can gain access to the energy they need to compete with overseas rivals. He revealed much of his plan when he visited the NSW Hunter Valley today. The key points from his address can be found here and, in longer form, here. Here, Katherine Times editor Chris McLennan, explains the Beetaloo Basin. It is the first of five Strategic Basin Plans the PM revealed today.

PM promises to 'unlock' potential of Beetaloo gas - but what even is Beetaloo?

A lot of Australians might be wondering what is this place called the Beetaloo which is going to save the nation from economic ruin?

The Federal Government today promoted the Beetaloo as some sort of national El Dorado, but it sounds as much like a bush food than a treasure house.

An online search would reveal very little.

Perhaps that's because the Beetaloo is a region in the outback of the Northern Territory that few have ever visited.

Fewer still are the number of journalists who have ever trod its parched red, soils. I have.

A few years back Origin Energy invited a handful of journalists to see what the fuss was all about.

Even for the Territory, this was the middle of nowhere. Lots of flies, lots of dust, lots of nothing really.

Daly Waters is the capital of the Beetaloo, if there is one. About 600km south-east of Darwin straight into the interior.

Flat, lots of desperate looking shrubs, pretty much unremarkable.

The Amungee site from the air in the Beetaloo, not much to see up top, it is all far underground.

The Amungee site from the air in the Beetaloo, not much to see up top, it is all far underground.

But the Beetaloo is all about what you can't see, what's deep beneath your feet, very deep.

As much as four kilometres under the sandy topsoil are thickish layers of shale.

As much as 18,500 square kilometres in extent.

According to some reports, 118 trillion cubic feet of gas. Sounds like a lot.

The brittle rocks lay in a carpet far underground, with modern mining methods, ripe for the plucking.

Depending on who you talk to, there's enough gas down there to supply the nation for hundreds of years.

Origin Energy, the owner of the Amungee well we visited after their successful tests, calls it the most promising shale gas resource anywhere in the world.

Origin, and other gas explorers like Santos, have spent many millions of dollars testing that theory.

They are drilling deep, their drills shoot sideways for many more kilometres along the shale layers and they frack.

Fracking opened the door to the enormous shale gas reservoirs of the United States.

It is a process despised by environmentalist which broadly involves injecting fluids under pressure into the rock to crack it, and release the gas.

There are bans on fracking in various parts of Australia, the Territory banned it for a while until an expensive scientific study convinced it to drop its moratorium and go for it.

While there's not much to see above ground, there is a lot of water deep down as well, water traveling through aquifers which supply springs, rivers, even towns.

If the Federal Government needs an economic saviour, a cash-strapped NT Government needs it as well.

While there is a lot of debate about how many jobs a shale gas industry would create, that has never stopped the optimism.

There's lots of gold and other mineral wealth under the Territory as well, but nothing excites as much as shale gas.

The thousands of coal seam gas wells in Queensland are not producing as they once did, the NT is the great white hope.

Shale gas is like any other gas, and can be used in cooking, heating, powering factories or sending overseas for export dollars.

A shale rock from deep under the Beetaloo, is smooth to the touch, and not having seen the sun for millenia, black and even a bit coal-like.

This is what the fuss is all about, a shale rock from deep beneath the Beetaloo.

This is what the fuss is all about, a shale rock from deep beneath the Beetaloo.

The Beetaloo find could also be "liquids rich" the explorers think, not quite oil but more valuable than just gas.

The explorers are convinced the gas is there, but how to get it market.

The Beetaloo is such a long way from anywhere, one of the problems of the NT.

Building expensive pipelines might make it too costly a proposition for a commercial company, but with a bit of government support, then it becomes more feasible.

The NT Government is already plotting a route for a pipeline which would tap into yet another pipeline heading east to the coast and then also to Darwin.

The Federal Government today gave it top priority to "unlock" the potential of the Beetaloo.

The nation's Fort Knox has been patiently lying in wait, now the nation needs it to give up its wealth because times are bad.

The Beetaloo never had so much attention.

This story All eyes turn to the Beetaloo, the nation's gas El Dorado first appeared on Katherine Times.