IN A national first, the Andrews Labor Government has announced a permanent ban on the exploration and development of all onshore unconventional gas in Victoria, including hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and coal seam gas.
The permanent legislative ban, to be introduced to Parliament later this year, will protect the ‘clean, green’ reputation of Victoria’s agriculture sector, which employs more than 190,000 people, providing much-needed certainty to regional communities.
The decision, which was announced on August 30, will see an end to the anxiety felt by Victorian farmers about the environmental and health risks associated with fracking and forms part of the government response to the 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into Onshore Unconventional Gas in Victoria. This Inquiry received more than 1600 submissions, mostly opposed to onshore unconventional gas. It is clear that the Victorian community has spoken – they simply don’t support fracking.
“Victorians have made it clear that they don’t support fracking and that the health and environmental risks involved outweigh any potential benefits,” said the Premier, Daniel Andrews.
“We have carefully considered the Parliamentary Inquiry’s key findings and recommendations, consulted widely and made our decision on the best available evidence,” said Minister for Resources Wade Noonan.
“There has been a great deal of community concern and anxiety about onshore unconventional gas – this decision gets the balance right,” Mr Noonan added.
The Government’s decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledges that the risks involved outweigh any potential benefits to Victoria – a state which the Victorian Government says is the nation’s top food and fibre producer with exports worth $11.6 billion.
Until the legislation is passed by Parliament, the current moratorium on unconventional onshore gas exploration and development will stay in place.
Exemptions to the ban will remain for other types of activities that are not covered by the current moratorium, such as gas storage, carbon storage research and accessing offshore resources. Exploration and development for offshore gas will also continue.
The Labor Government will also legislate to extend the current moratorium on the exploration and development of conventional onshore gas until June 30, 2020, noting that fracking will remain banned. Extensive scientific, technical and environmental studies will be undertaken in Australia on the risks, benefits and impacts of onshore gas. These will be overseen by an expert panel, headed by the Lead Scientist Amanda Caples, and will include farmers and industry, business and community representatives.
The announcement has been wholeheartedly welcomed by the Victorian Farmers Federation.
“The Government’s decision is a win for Victorian farmers, who have been calling for an on-going ban on all forms of onshore gas development until at least 2020,” said VFF Land Management chairman Gerald Leach.
Unconventional gas refers to an underground source of natural gas found in the layers of three types of rock structures (coal seams, tight rocks and shale rocks), which may be extracted by high pressure pumping of water, sand and sometimes chemicals into these structures to release the gas. Conventional gas usually involves drilling directly into gas trapped in porous rocks, which is released without the need for high pressure pumping or fracking.
Mr Leach said the VFF was glad to see that the Government would undertake “the most extensive scientific, technical and environmental studies in Australia on the risks, benefits and impacts of onshore gas” prior to making any decision on lifting the ban on conventional onshore gas developments.
“Victoria has precious groundwater reserves, and without hard scientific evidence that show the risks of onshore gas development can be properly managed, those reserves shouldn’t be put at risk,” Mr Leach said.
“As it stands, we don’t know the true environmental impact of onshore gas mining, and we’re relieved to see the Government is undertaking further research before lifting any moratorium on onshore gas mining.”
A recent VFF survey showed members’ greatest concern was the potential for cross-contamination of aquifers as a result of drilling for gas, while others feared it would cause financial or environmental harm.
The VFF needs answers on the impacts of onshore gas on aquifers and wonders who monitors the wells after the gas reserves are exhausted, to ensure the concrete lining doesn’t crack and lead to saline aquifers cross-contaminating fresh ones.
South Gippsland Shire Mayor, Cr. Bob Newton welcomed the ban and acknowledged the extensive relief for South Gippsland and in particular its agricultural and tourism sectors.
“Council has supported and advocated for the ban of unconventional gas in Victoria for a number of years and we are relieved to hear that the Victorian Government has made this commitment.
“The ban on the unconventional gas industry in Victoria ensures the protection of our local agricultural and tourism sectors from any risks that are associated with the industry. The whole community can now rejoice in knowing the unconventional gas industry will have no place in South Gippsland.
“South Gippsland will remain a place known for high quality food production and its natural beauty and we thank the Victorian Government for listening to the community and our plea to mitigate risks associated with coal seam gas,” Cr. Newton said.
“This decision removes any anxiety felt by local farmers in regards to the environmental and health risks associated with fracking – removing one less pressure currently felt by the industry,” said a Council spokesperson.
“It will also be welcomed by the broader South Gippsland community. Many people across South Gippsland have been worried about the impact of unconventional gas extraction on the environment and landscapes of the region.
“The government’s decision to ban Unconventional gas extraction and the method of “fracking” is a great result for Victoria and Australia,” said Larry Giddy, member of the CSG Project Group and of the Foster Community Association.
“A great deal of thanks needs to be given to Friends of the Earth and its dedicated team for keeping the communities across Victoria informed and motivated to ask the hard questions of our parliamentarians. Thanks also has to go to Lock the Gate Alliance for their support and knowledge on this issue. They have been dealing with the outfall of this industry in NSW and Queensland for years.
“I would personally like to thank the Mirboo North Coal Seam Gas group for being a driving force on this issue in South Gippsland.
“The Premier Daniel Andrews and this team have to be given credit for listening to the thousands of voices across Victoria. It had to be a brave decision in the face of what I would imagine to have been a great deal of pressure from the oil and gas industries.
“This decision protects Victoria’s reputation for its fresh and clean produce. It was a long battle over five years, but it’s fantastic what people power can achieve when they know it’s the right decision,” Mr Giddy said.
“The Nationals have always prioritised our land and water resources in this issue and today’s announcement is a continuation of the former Coalition Government’s cautious approach in establishing the moratorium,” said Nationals Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien following the announcement on August 30.
“We have always stood side-by-side with our farmers, while the previous Labor Government issued 23 fracking permits and 73 exploration permits. In Government, the Coalition introduced the moratorium on fracking and legislated to ban the use of BTEX chemicals.
“I have seen the stress and anxiety some people have experienced on this issue and today’s announcement will come as a great relief to many in Gippsland. I hope the announcement today will allow farmers and landholders to move on with their lives.
“The Government’s position on conventional gas exploration and development is the same as The Nationals’ position announced in October last year. I look forward to seeing the details of the Government’s proposed legislation when it is released,” Mr O’Brien said.