A MINISTERIAL direction put in place to safeguard the area from fracking before new Swan Valley planning laws are introduced has been removed.
On Tuesday, December 4 Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s (DMIRS) resource and environmental compliance acting executive director Karen Caple said the Ministerial direction no longer applied as Southern Sky Energy were no longer the registered holder of EP 494.
But Ms Caple said the regulations that ban hydraulic fracturing in the Perth metropolitan area now applied.
Swan Hills MLA Jessica Shaw, who in September confirmed her opposition to fracking as it would compromise the environment, ground water, public health and contribute adversely to climate change, said it had been a big hurdle for her to get comfortable with the McGowan Government’s response to the fracking inquiry.
But she had concluded that although it would leave some people unhappy she had decided it was a good decision.
Ms Shaw said the existing ban over South West, Peel and Perth metropolitan area, including the Swan Valley would continue, the regulations would be world class and fracking would only be allowed on the 21 existing petroleum leases.
Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA (CME) chief executive Paul Everingham said the government should have lifted the ban on fracking in the South West, Peel and Perth.
Mr Everingham said given the scientific inquiry led by Dr Tom Hatton concluded that the risks from hydraulic fracturing were low and could be managed with good regulation and industry best practice, it made little sense to keep the ban in place.
He said allowing hydraulic fracturing would place downward pressure on electricity and domestic gas prices and help WA households, manufacturing and other industries access affordable energy.
“Hydraulic fracturing has been done safely for decades in WA, with more than 600 wells hydraulically fractured in the past 55 years with no evidence of environmental harm,” he said.
“We have already had 13 hydraulic fracturing inquiries in Australia, including a very thorough investigation by the WA Parliament just three years ago.
“Like all of the others, it found no evidence to support activist demands that hydraulic fracturing must be banned.
“Today’s announcement is a missed opportunity to tap into WA’s potentially massive shale and tight gas assets and provide the WA community with a greater domestic gas supply.’’
Lock the Gate in WA spokeswoman Simone van Hattem said if fracking was not safe in the South West and Perth, then it was not safe anywhere.
Ms van Hattem said the government’s approach had divided Western Australia and created two classes of people – those in the south who were protected from fracking and those in the Mid West and Kimberley who were not.
She said the government’s plan left vast areas available for fracking.
“If this decision opens up 2 per cent of WA for fracking, that amounts to more than 5 million hectares of land, an area almost the size of Tasmania,’’ she said.
“However, there is potential for even more gas leases to be released in the future.
“There is nothing in the announcement to prevent gas companies applying for new releases.
“On the contrary, the inquiry report specifically refers to a process to enable new gas acreage releases.
“There is nothing about this outcome that is balanced – it delivers access to gas companies to the vast majority of existing leases and protects only small areas.
“It has been supported by gas groups such as APPEA, and has been strongly opposed by unions, farmers, and traditional owners.
“This provides a green light and a foot in the door for the fracking industry to continue business as usual and does very little to stand in gas companies’ way.
“The community doesn’t accept this outcome and won’t accept this outcome, and that it is going to be a big problem for the McGowan Government going forward.’’
Major weaknesses in the promised ‘veto’ right concern Lock the Gate.
“The fine print of the announcement makes it clear that neither traditional owners nor landholders will have the right to say no to exploration fracking, only to production fracking.
“Environment Minister Stephen Dawson has also acknowledged that pastoralists will not have the right to veto even production stage fracking.’’
She said water source protection was limited to very small areas around public drinking water bores (not farm bores).
“The government has made much of the fact that fracking will require EPA approval.
“EPA approval is a basic regulatory measure that applies in most states, however it doesn’t stop fracking and it hasn’t stopped fracking in other states.
“The lesson from the USA is that the industry is too large and widespread for adequate regulatory oversight, especially given the paucity of public funds dedicated to environmental monitoring.’’
By Anita McInnes