Among those who attended last week’s coal seam gas meeting in Korumburra was Ron Wangman who said he would be concerned about the impact on local groundwater supplies which were used to alleviate Korumburra’s extreme water shortage a few years ago. m043614
IF LAST Wednesday night’s public meeting in Korumburra is any indication, the State Government is losing the battle for hearts and minds when it comes to the development of the state’s unconventional gas potential.
This close to a State Election, though, the government may simply be hoping that the issue doesn’t flare up before the November 29 poll.
Unfortunately, that’s likely to be a rather forlorn hope.
While the Daniel Andrews’ Opposition has stopped short of opposing CSG outright, it has offered to undertake a “parliamentary inquiry into unconventional gas explorations, including coal seam gas (CSG), in regional and rural Victoria” and deliver its findings within 12 months of gaining office.
So it will be an election issue and the Napthine Government will have to say what it is going to do after the ban on fracking is lifted in July 2015.
As well as that, several people are already bobbing up to run as ‘Say no to Coal Seam Gas’ candidates, including Mirboo North resident Phil Piper, in Peter Ryan’s own seat of Gippsland South.
And there are likely to be other anti-CSG activities as well.
The local ‘Lock the Gate’ group has dismissed the idea of running a coordinated election campaign in Gippsland with candidates in every seat as beyond their resources but they’ll make their presence felt all the same.
“That would be too big an undertaking for us at this stage,” said a spokesperson for the group, Hannah Alquier.
But the Lock the Gate group is planning other activities to get their message across to would-be miners and the State Government.
At a meeting in Korumburra last Wednesday night, September 3, they outlined a strategy for providing Korumburra residents with the opportunity to declare their town ‘CSG Free’.
They are planning to have a follow-up meeting on Wednesday, September 17 to which all of the town’s community groups will be invited with the aim of recruiting at least six of the groups to assist them with the project.
“Poowong was the icebreaker (declaring itself CSG Free in 2012) but we’ve now got 19 other towns and districts in Gippsland which have declared themselves CSG Free,” said Hannah’s daughter, Ursula Alquier, one of the organisers of the Korumburra meeting.
“Korumburra is a little bit too big for us to survey the town as we were able to do at Poowong. So we have another strategy to discuss with the community and we’d like to see as many people as possible come along on Wednesday, September 17 at 7.30pm.
“It will be fun, I promise.”
The self-styled “peaceful group” is hoping to enlist the support of local community groups in activities and events whereby the community can express its support or otherwise for a plan to declare the town CSG Free.
And they won’t have to look far past a question by a resident of the local region, Ron Wangman.
Following a showing of the powerful documentary film ‘Fractured Country – an Unconventional Invasion’, narrated by Jack Thompson and an address by Mark Ogge, a researcher with The Australia Institute, Mr Wangman wanted to know what assurances there were that Korumburra’s water supply would be protected.
“During the last drought, we needed ground water to augment the local supply to stop us running out. How would a coal seam gas industry locally affect local ground water supplies? That would be my concern.”
“There is a risk that it could get contaminated but it’s an unknown risk,” Mr Ogge said.
“Wells will only operate for 20 to 30 years but the casing around the well has to last longer than that to ensure there isn’t any contamination. You can’t just pull out the casings.”
Mr Ogge said definitive evidence on what would happen to ground water was not available in Australia and needed to be thoroughly investigated but there was a strong indication that unconventional gas operations have already contaminated river and ground water resources.
As Ms Alquier explained after the meeting that the title ‘CSG Free’ is largely symbolic, but it was capable of delivering a quite powerful message to the mining companies and the State Government that they would have quite a deal of trouble trying to set up an exploration and production industry in the area.
Those at last week’s meeting, clearly scared by what they saw in the documentary as occurring in Queensland, where unconventional gas mining was going ahead on an enormous scale, almost totally unregulated, expressed their own concerns for what might happen in Victoria if the government removed the moratorium in July 2015.
And there immediate concerns are close to home with Lakes Oil at an advanced stage with its ‘tight gas’ and ‘shale gas’ operations near Seaspray.
“They are involved in tight gas which some would argue is more difficult to extract and more dangerous than coal seam gas. It has to be fracked to be released in almost all situations,” Ursula Alquier told the group.
A spokesperson for Lakes Oil confirmed that theirs is a tight gas and shale gas operation but denied it represented any risk.
He said the firm had done some fracking, in 2004, 2005 and 2009 but there was absolutely no evidence that the fissures caused had spread or that they were any threat to ground water.
Tim O’Brien, the Operations Manager for Lakes Oil also claimed that there would never be any unconventional gas activity in the Korumburra area as there wasn’t a commercial resource in the area.
“It would be better if the government came out and said so and the people down there wouldn’t have to worry. We’ve been saying it for a long time to anyone who’d listen,” he said.
Calls to make ban permanent
THE government of the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia has just announced that it intends to introduce legislation to prohibit hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in shale oil and gas projects.
The legislation will replace a moratorium on fracking imposed by the previous government.
“Like a growing number of jurisdictions around the world, Nova Scotia will ban the process of fracking because of uncertainty about the environmental safety of this controversial practise,” said Friends of the Earth campaigns coordinator Cam Walker.
“The Nova Scotian government has also based its decision to create an open-ended ban on fracking on the fact that a large percentage of the community are opposed to hydraulic fracturing,” Mr Walker said.
“The situation is the same here in Victoria. Already, 24 regional communities in Victoria have declared themselves coal or gasfield free because of concerns about new fossil fuel projects.
“The average level of support in community polling for the declarations has been 95 per cent.
“This industry does not have social license to operate in Victoria.
“The State Government would do well to heed community concerns and place an open ended ban on onshore unconventional gas drilling until the process is proven safe for land, water and people.
“The Victorian Government has recently carried out a community consultation process, which comprehensively showed the level of community opposition to this industry.
“It is gathering baseline data on groundwater. Given the growing evidence of groundwater contamination and other problems associated with the unconventional gas industry elsewhere in Australia and around the world, the Victorian Government should ban any further onshore gas drilling,” Mr Walker said.
“The current moratorium could be lifted early in 2015. A logical interim step is for the Coalition Government to promise, if re-elected in November, to extend the current ban on exploration and drilling for the next term of government while additional data is compiled and considered.”