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Issue #1559      8 August 2012

“What the frack”

Unconventional gas and its place in WA’s energy future

On June 20, West Australian Upper House Greens Member of Parliament Alison Xamon brought on her motion to have a moratorium on the fracking of unconventional gas until a transparent and effective regulatory framework and comprehensive environmental assessment regime was introduced.

In the debate, the Liberals directly supported fracking. The Nationals who had some concerns, still supported their Liberal coalition partners. They did so in purely economic terms, ignoring the scientific literature on the negative impacts that gas fracking has on the environment, greenhouse gas emissions and functioning of the human body.

The ALP joined forces with the Liberals/National Party, claiming that the geology of WA is different to that of the USA, and therefore it would be safer than over there to manage WA’s unconventional gas extraction and processing.

Greens Upper House MP, Alison Xamon, however, is determined not to give up the fight against gas fracking. She spoke at a public meeting of more than 50 people on July 31, which was convened by Greens MLC Lyn McLaren in the port city of Fremantle. Xamon outlined strategies to keep the issue bubbling until the next time a moratorium on gas fracking in WA can be proposed.

This includes applying political and public pressure on the Environmental Protection Authority to undertake assessments of gas fracking which consider the full range of science available. It should include issues of public health and safety, long- and medium- term effects on the environment, and especially greenhouse gas emissions and their known effect on climate change.

Doctors for the Environment spokesman Dr George Crisp addressed the public forum on the known and suspected risks and hazards of gas fracking. The reasons why there is an emphasis on suspected risks said Dr Crisp, is that without rigorous scientific testing one cannot categorically state that conventional gas mining is hazardous or dangerous – especially in regards to the chemicals used as proppants* in the gas fracking process.

The chemicals can affect ground and surface water or become airborne as a gas passing its way into the bodies of human beings and other living creatures in the area.

These contaminants come not only from the chemicals pumped down exploratory wells but from stirring up dangerous chemicals which, for millions of years, have laid thousands of metres below the surface.

Dr Crisp said that science knows what effects certain chemicals have on the various functions of the body but little or no research has been done specifically linked to fracking. These include effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, kidney and endocrine systems which can effect breathing and cause skin irritation, cell mutations, infertility and reproduction problems and cancer.

This is especially true of the various chemicals used with the proppants such as toluene, ethylbenzene, benzene and one of the most carcinogenic compounds known – 4-nitroquinoline-1 oxide which rapidly depletes healthy body cells and induces cancerous tumours.

Dr Crisp also spoke of high concentrations of ozone around some well heads in the US which exceed levels of ozone found over some US cities. High levels of ozone are linked to respiratory illnesses including asthma.

The world should be looking at renewable energy systems to generate energy rather than the non-renewable energy systems which the current capitalist paradigm is concentrating on. Though new investment in renewable energy has outstripped that of non-renewable energy in recent years, it is not happening fast enough as the recent power blackout in India shows. This phenomena is not confined to India and has happened in a number of countries including US, China and Australia.

The Communist Party of Australia calls on community groups, trade unions, farmers and other activist groups to continue their fight to bring a moratorium to fracking for coal seam, shale and tight gas. We should be working towards the phasing out of extraction, and conversion to sources of environmentally sustainable renewable energy.

A proppant is the material used to keep induced hydraulic fractures open, during or following a fracturing treatment. Materials used include naturally occurring sand grains, resin-coated sand or high-strength ceramic materials like sintered bauxite.  

Next article – Hiroshima Day 2012

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