VICTORIA will permanently ban the exploration and development of all onshore unconventional gas, including hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and coal seam gas, the State’s Government announced today.
The Andrew Labor Government said a current moratorium on unconventional onshore gas exploration and development will stay in place until the legislation is introduced, provided it is passed by Parliament, later this year.
The Andrews 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.
The ban will protect the ‘clean, green’ reputation of Victoria’s agriculture sector, which employs more than 190,000 people, the Victorian Government said.
The decision will provide much-needed certainty to regional communities and end the anxiety felt by Victorian farmers about the environmental and health risks associated with fracking, a government statement said.
The ban decision forms part of the government response to the 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into Onshore Unconventional Gas in Victoria, which received more than 1600 submissions. These were mostly opposed to onshore unconventional gas.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the state’s farmers produce some of the world’s cleanest and freshest food.
“We won’t put that at risk with fracking.
“Victorians have made it clear that they don’t support fracking and that the health and environmental risks involved outweigh any potential benefits.”
Minister for Resources Wade Noonan said there has been a great deal of community concern and anxiety about onshore unconventional gas.
“This decision gets the balance right.
“We have carefully considered the parliamentary inquiry’s key findings and recommendations, consulted widely and made our decision on the best available evidence.”
The Victorian Government said the ban decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledged that the risks involved with unconventional onshore gas exploration and development outweigh any potential benefits to Victoria.
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 Victorian Government said it will undertake the most extensive scientific, technical and environmental studies 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.
A win for farmers: VFF
The Victorian Government’s decision was a win for Victorian farmers, VFF Land Management chairman Gerald Leach said.
Mr Leach said the VFF had been calling for the decision and 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 said it needed answers on the impacts of onshore gas on aquifers, including who would monitor wells after the gas reserves were exhausted to ensure well linings don’t crack and lead to saline aquifers cross-contaminating fresh reserves.
Victoria’s status as the nation’s biggest food and fibre exporter ($11.6 billion in 2015) could not be put at risk for the sake of some short term gains from gas industry, the VFF said.
Australian Industry Group disappointed with ban
The Australian Industry Group said the Victorian Government ban puts at risk thousands of Victorian jobs.
“Industry is disappointed with the decision to maintain blanket bans on unconventional gas drilling. However, the Victorian Government’s additional review of conventional onshore drilling does give some hope that new sources of much-needed gas may be developed,” the Head of Ai Group’s Victoria Branch, Tim Piper, said today.
“Thousands of Victorian jobs depend on the use of gas for energy and feedstock in industry. And we are just emerging from a winter in which tight supply and high demand sent spot gas prices soaring, contributing to the electricity crisis in South Australia. Victoria and other states have ambitious plans to increase renewables, which will further increase the importance of gas as a support to our energy markets. Our nation’s energy ministers have agreed on the vital importance of getting more gas flowing from more suppliers.
“The State Government should put greater emphasis on more scientifically based regulation that facilitates the development of gas resources with appropriate environmental safeguards rather than a continuation of blanket bans.
“While today’s announcement falls well short of this, we welcome the action the Government will take to deepen understanding of the scale of Victoria’s onshore gas resources, and the benefits and risks associated with them. We appreciate the Victorian Government’s ongoing consultation with industry and other stakeholders and we look forward to representing industry’s needs as part of this process.
“This leaves the way open for onshore drilling to be conducted when it is shown that gas is available and can be safely produced onshore through conventional drilling, as it has been across the world for many decades.
“Industry will continue to pursue the possibility of both conventional and unconventional drilling, but we recognise that conventional drilling is more important in the near term,” Mr Piper said.
Source: Victorian Government, Victorian Farmers Federation, Australian Industry Group