OPPONENTS of an onshore gas industry in this state have welcomed news that the Victorian Government will extend the moratorium on coal seam gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) for many more months.
“This is an important issue, it needs to be taken seriously,” said Premier Daniel Andrews, as he announced that the moratorium on CSG exploration would stay in place until a parliamentary inquiry into onshore gas exploration and mining delivers its findings. This is not expected to be before the end of the year.
“Mounting evidence continues to pour in, from the CSG fields of Queensland and NSW as well as from the United States, about the environmental and health impacts of unconventional gas extraction. The industry is growing faster than the science and government regulations to control it,” said Larry Giddy from Foster Community Association’s CSG Project Group.
“Victoria’s Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D’Ambrosio, has said the moratorium will remain in place until the state inquiry reports back on its findings, probably late this year. The minister also said: “The moratorium will remain in place until science shows it’s safe and there is broad community support for drilling.” This is a very encouraging statement for those who have very real concerns about the impacts of CSG.”
The Andrews Labor government announcement is the second piece of good news for Gippsland’s CSG opponents in recent months. Late last year ExxonMobil confirmed it was pulling out of onshore gas exploration in Gippsland, ending the Victorian Natural Gas joint venture it formed with Ignite Energy Resources in 2012.
Exxon, which had a 10 per cent stake in the venture, and IER had been planning to drill up to seven exploration wells to study whether gas resources could be profitably produced on a commercial scale. None were drilled because of the bans put in place by the previous Victorian Coalition government.
Over 40 communities across Victoria, including several in Gippsland, have declared themselves ‘coal and coal seam gas free’.
“The more people become aware of the negative effects it could and would have on communities, health and water contamination, the more communities will make that declaration,” said Mr Giddy. “The Foster Community Association is continuing to survey the residents in the 3960 postcode on whether or not they want exploration for coal seam gas on their land or in their community. So far, one person out of hundreds canvassed has said that they would be in favour.”
He added: “Clearly the industry is ramping up its efforts to influence the state government and community attitudes by the recent barrage of newspaper ads and media interviews. Despite the moratorium, the issue is not going away, so there is no room for complacency.”
Last month the government released the interim report on a comprehensive community and stakeholder engagement program for onshore natural gas independently facilitated by The Primary Agency. More than 1500 people took part in 16 open days across Victoria last year, including many in Gippsland. The views expressed are noted in the interim report. Both the interim and the final report – due to be delivered shortly – will contribute to the parliamentary inquiry. The report can be read online at http://naturalgasinfo.vic.gov.au.
Meanwhile the Victorian Greens have renewed calls for a permanent ban on onshore gas exploration. Greens resources spokeswoman Ellen Sandell described the onshore gas industry as “toxic”.
“Victoria needs a permanent ban on fracking and onshore gas exploration, to protect farmers and communities,” she said.