Project Monitoring natural and human-induced seismicity in the Beetaloo Sub-basin region of the Northern Territory

How Geoscience Australia is assessing the environmental impacts of shale and tight gas hydraulic fracturing. 

Aerial view of a hydrolic fracturing well in the Beetaloo basin taken by Stephen Hoare.

The problem

The need for evidence-based data around hydraulic fracturing seismic activity

Hydraulic fracturing has gained worldwide attention as a potential partial solution to the global energy crisis – with supporters highlighting its prospective ability to generate electricity with much lower carbon emissions than traditional fossil fuels.

However scientific research around hydraulic fracturing is in its early days, and widespread concern exists about its environmental impacts and potential to cause seismic events. While it’s believed that only a small percentage of hydraulic fracturing activities can trigger earthquakes large enough to be felt at the Earth’s surface, it’s critical this potential is understood.

In the Beetaloo Sub-basin region of the Northern Territory, shale and tight gas development is currently underway. As a relatively new form of energy provision, it’s crucial that the federal, state and local governments, a wide range of organisations and the general public have access to evidence-based data and research around fracking. This will allow all stakeholders to build an accurate knowledge of human-induced seismicity associated with hydrocarbon extraction activities, and develop a better understanding of the environmental impacts of the practice.

Read the conference paper

Aerial view of a hydraulic fracturing well in the Beetaloo project.

Aerial view of a hydraulic fracturing well in the Beetaloo sub-basin region. 

What we’re doing

The installation of a seismic monitoring network to detect ground vibrations and earthquakes

As part of the Geological and Bioregional Assessment (GBA) program, Geoscience Australia partnered with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and CSIRO to assess any ground vibrations caused by the Beetaloo shale and tight gas development and help determine the environmental impact of the project. Via the GBA program, we are:

  • Establishing a baseline understanding of seismic activity in the Beetaloo sub-basin region by developing a seismic monitoring network of 10 seismic stations across the region, and using these seismometers to detect and locate both natural seismic activity and human-induced seismicity from hydrocarbon extraction activities
  • following best practice land access and cultural heritage approaches - permissions were sought from land holders, traditional owners, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, and the Northern Land Council to determine the location and installation timing of the seismic monitoring network
  • installing satellite communications equipment in 10 of the seismic stations, providing Geoscience Australia with data to monitor regional seismic activity in real time.

A sample of data collected from the new stations streamed to Geoscience Australia’s National Earthquake Alerts Centre and an open data repository which can be utilised by industry and the public.

Geoscience Australia works with state and local governments and the emergency management industry sector across Australia to develop local hazard assessments. For more information, contact

Looking forward

Improving Australia’s knowledge of the hydraulic fracturing hazards

  • Geoscience Australia’s seismic monitoring as part of the Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program is scheduled to continue until mid 2022 and has commitment for its continuation through to 2025.
  • All Geoscience Australia seismic data recorded in the Beetaloo Sub-basin region during this monitoring period is freely available for all stakeholders to view on the Earthquakes@GA website, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology or via official Geoscience Australia written records.
  • Geoscience Australia’s earthquake data and research continues to inform Australians about reducing their risk from earthquakes and keeping their communities safe.

How we can help you

Our earthquake resources can help identify your region’s high-threat areas so you can make better-informed planning and development decisions.