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Issue #1555      11 July 2012

No Fracking Way

Fracking Workshop – Gingin, Western Australia

In Western Australia the momentum continues to build for the fracking of unconventional gas. Part of this momentum comes from the exploration companies and another part from the politicians who the gas corporations are lobbying to secure the least government oversight and regulation possible and thereby ensuring the most profits for their industry. On June 20, the Liberal, National and Labor members of the WA Legislative Council combined to vote down Greens MLC’s Moratorium on fracking of unconventional gas.

(Photo: Josephine Donnolley)

On June 22, National Party MLC’s for the Agricultural Region, Grant Woodhams and Philip Gardiner conducted the last of three workshops at Gingin on fracking in the Mid West region of WA following similar forums at Dongara and Eneabba.

The speakers who formed part of a fracking road show were either public servants who represented the interests of government to promote the benefits of fracking (including the royalties which the government would receive) or exponents from the gas industry itself, who prefer the more euphemistic, onshore gas industry to unconventional gas.

The first speaker to present at the workshop was Bill Tinapple, Executive Director of WA Department of Mines and Petroleum and a former petroleum engineer. Tinapple addressed the 60 farmers from the Gingin and surrounding areas including a few representatives from the anti-fracking group, No Fracking Way who had come from Perth, on the need to have diversified sources of gas to tackle a fairly tight supply and demand over the next 20 years. This situation he stressed was one of the push factors for the steep rise in gas over recent years – that and so much of the conventional gas from the North West Shelf is being shipped as condensate to overseas buyers.

Tinapple added that there had been no pollution from the 290 wells which had been drilled in Western Australia which was a consequence of a careful and considered approval process which involved environmental management plans as well as safety plans for each well drilled.

He said that while current legislation cannot force US corporation, Halliburton which controls the patents for most of the chemicals used in the mix of sand and water sent down each well to facilitate the fracking process, it was hoped that legislative changes being contemplated would bring about a greater public disclosure.

The next speaker was also from the DMP, Kim Anderson, an environmental manager who oversaw the Environmental Management Plans (EMP) which the DMP mandated from gas explorers for each well drilled to facilitate fracking for shale or tight gas.

Anderson also emphasised that the EMP’s had to identify risks and impacts on flora and fauna as well as underground aquifers and surface streams.

A spokesman from the Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association (AAPEA), Bill Stedman, addressed the workshop to assure those farmers present about the safety of processes used in fracking and the minimal impact which fracking activities had on people and the environment – especially that fracking “produces significantly less greenhouse gases than other forms of carbon based energy”even when the science indicates that one of the main by products of the fracking process is methane, a greenhouse gas which is more than 70 times more harmful to the atmosphere than emissions from the burning of coal.

Despite the assurances of Stedman that, “The proponents of gas fracking had developed a voluntary code of conduct as a demonstration of the industry’s commitment to safety and protection of the environment”, few people in the room were left convinced that their farmland and water resources were free from the risks associated with fracking as evidenced by leaks and accidents in the eastern states and overseas, especially in the United States.

If ever there was someone who could sing the praises of gas and petroleum exploration and drilling it was the next speaker Craig Marshall-the managing director of Empire Oil and Gas NL. Craig Marshall’s take on fracking in the Gingin area is that due to the soft geological strata of the area only drilling is required to gain access to the gas condensate rather than fracking of shale or tight rock formations for shale or tight gas.

In some cases Empire Oil and Gas can conduct a portion of their seismic exploration for gas and oil from the air using either a helicopter or an aeroplane.

Marshall also spoke of the obligation of miners to take out well insurance when drilling a well for unconventional gas. Empire Oil and Gas according to Marshall claims not to use hydraulic fracking in his operations but instead a process called perforation which requires a perforating gun.

It is misleading to say perforation is distinct from fracking, as the process of perforation and the use of a perforation gun are steps of the fracking process when the drill is at the horizontal drilling stage and charges are released through pre set holes in the pipes. Later, water, sand and chemicals are pumped down the well to loosen the hydrocarbons in the rock formations and then release the gas to the surface through steel pipes reinforced with concrete and steel casings.

Marshall also said that it was important for drilling companies to spend money on infrastructure for individual farmers and their communities as a way of demonstrating that the drilling companies have a commitment to the area and not just their corporations’ profits.

The final approved spokesperson for the workshop was Peter Stone who was a scientist for CSIRO and a representative of the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) who addressed the forum on many of the concerns which farmers and other people in rural communities have about fracking such as the over extraction of water, the contamination of water supplies, remediation of exploration sites once extraction from a well has ceased and decision making about land access and compensation. Stone believed there is enough information out there to inform people about what is happening though he seemed to contradict this by asserting, “there should be a symmetrical presentation of information” or public access to information of the mining companies and governments, inferring that this transparency does not currently exist.

Philip Gardner, one of the two MLC’s responsible for the Fracking road-show, spoke briefly to summarise the motivation behind the workshops on fracking which was, “to build a collaborative framework between landowners and industry to ensure that fairness exists and that it does not just become big business versus small business” – being farmers and other rural business interests.

However, a measure of the Philip Gardiner’s authentic desire for fairness was his glib dismissal of the iconic documentary, “Gaslands” from the USA made in 2010, which highlighted many of the environmental problems posed by fracking, many of which have popped up in countries all over the world including Australia, where fracking operations have taken place. His dismissal of the film was based on two scenes from the movie: a scene from a mountain stream in Pennsylvania and another from Colorado of the flammable substance coming from a household tap.

Curiously, the senior official from the Mines Department, Bill Tinapple, when questioned about the movie, “Gaslands”, made reference to the movie, “Truthlands” which was made by proponents of the gas industry who would have us believe that we are entering a new Golden Age of gas.


However, it was during the question time which followed the formal part of the workshop that a true measure of the traction of notions of the safety and reliability of fracking were put to the test.

The first was a short speech by the Chairman of Doctors for the Environment, Dr Kingsley Faulkner in which he advised the meeting that the state Minister for Mines had disinvited him from the latter workshops after he deemed that his message about the public health concerns was inconsistent with the general theme of the workshops which was to promote fracking of unconventional gas.

However, Dr Faulkner believed that health professionals should be a part of the panel that oversees and regulates the fracking process. There have not been any accidents from fracking yet, mainly due to the small scale and short time span of fracking operations in this state. Therefore Dr Faulkner added, “there may be impacts on the environment and people’s health that may be felt further down the track.” Another doctor in the audience who had lived seven years in the Jurien area of the Midwest also submitted that there were over 2,500 chemicals used in the fracking process of which 29 are known carcinogens and many of which we know little or nothing about. One of the glossy publications handed out by the AAPEA on the day tended to play down the risks associated with the chemicals by saying they were found in household items such as soaps, detergents, pool cleaners, antiperspirants, soil conditioners and food additives.

Another member of the audience suggested that the government was not doing enough to promote renewable energy which was also being produced in the region, when clearly methane gas which is a by-product of fracking contributed significantly to global warming.

A number of farmers including a representative from the WA Farmers Federation spoke of the need for a veto over land access inserted into the Petroleum Act which shouldn’t be too hard as such a veto currently exists for land owners under the Mining Act.

The workshop was a success for local farmers and for concerned citizens in WA generally after the collapse of Greens MLC Alison Xamon’s Moratorium, as it highlighted the difference between what parliament believes represents the democratic will of the people and what the people actually know and fear about fracking. The people who attended these workshops demonstrated their very real concerns which require addressing and that they are not prepared to be the cheer squad for the fracking industry.  

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