Australia's Northern Territory government said Dec. 3 a planned inquiry into the impact and possible risks of fracking will begin next week, and the practice will remain banned until it has been completed.
The resource-rich Territory's newly elected center-left Labor government banned fracking in September pending an investigation into whether the unconventional oil and gas drilling technique harms farm land or Aboriginal sites.
Companies including Origin Energy and Armour Energy, hold exploration acreage in the region, which has also attracted international firms including South Africa's Sasol and Japan's Inpex.
Fracking, which involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into the ground, was banned permanently in Australia's southern state of Victoria earlier this year.
The 10-person panel will meet on Dec. 8 and determine the time frame for the inquiry, the government said in a statement.
Industry groups say reputable studies have found the practice is safe.