The West Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston announced in the Legislative Assembly yesterday that the Government has implemented its election commitment to ban fracking for existing and future petroleum titles in the South West, Peel and Perth metropolitan regions.
And we can’t help but roll our eyes. Firstly, the development of onshore gas doesn’t automatically mean fracking, as we have noted previously.
But secondly, and more concerning, is that the Government has also put in place a moratorium on the use of fracking throughout the rest of Western Australia. The ban and moratorium are implemented through delegated legislation made under the Petroleum and Geothermal Resources Act 1967.
The Government’s long-term position on the future of fracking outside the South West, Peel and Perth metropolitan regions will be informed by the recommendations of an independent scientific inquiry into fracking in Western Australia.
But let’s not forget that WA has already undertaken a robust inquiry into the use of hydraulic fracturing.
In late 2015, following more than two and a half years of investigation, the WA Parliament Environment and Public Affairs Committee released a report which broadly supported the existing regulatory framework in place for the onshore oil and gas industry in Western Australia and which effectively endorsed the continued use of hydraulic fracturing.
Importantly, there was no support for a moratorium from the committee and ultimately the report’s recommendations accepted that hydraulic fracturing can be conducted safely provided appropriate regulations are in place and minimum standards are implemented.
So, what’s changed? Politics has overtaken sense and science, giving way to activist propaganda and fiction.
Of particular interest was that now Environment Minister Stephen Dawson sat on that very inquiry and did not produce a dissenting report, so agreed with its conclusions and recommendations. So did he feel the very inquiry that he was a participant on didn’t do its job?
Do we need to remind the Minister that fracking has taken place safely in WA in 610 wells, the first in 1958, and most of which were in conventional oil and gas wells on Barrow Island?
WA is not unfamiliar with the exploration and development of natural resources; and has in fact been a participant and driving force behind the development of onshore natural gas resources since the 1960s, when gas was first discovered in the onshore Perth Basin.
The fact that the State has some of the largest untapped shale and tight gas resources in Australia has facilitated a resurgence in the exploration of natural gas in areas such as the Perth and Canning Basins which were previously deemed uneconomic due to the porosity, permeability and depth of the target formations.
Even the Western Australian Department of Health (DoH) released a report in 2015 supporting the safe use of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional gas. The DoH report, which details the risks posed by fracking to human health, found that:
“under the right conditions, hydraulic fracturing of shale gas reserves in WA can be successfully undertaken without compromising drinking water sources.”
As our artillery of supportive, robust and scientific evidence mounts; we can’t help but question the WA Government’s desire for yet another inquiry. Scientifically, it doesn’t make sense. But this inquiry has been driven by activists and fuelled by politics.
The rest of the WA resources sector should be very afraid of the Minister for Mines and Petroleum’s comments (or should that be Minister Against Mines & Petroleum) that “We will not compromise the environment, agriculture, groundwater and public health in WA.”
By their very nature, all extractive industries have some impact on at least one of those objectives.