VICTORIA will permanently ban the exploration and development of all onshore unconventional gas, including hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and coal seam gas.
The plan was announced today by the Andrews Labor Government, with the current moratorium on unconventional onshore gas exploration and development to stay in place until legislation is passed by parliament.
The Labor 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.
A Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet statement said the permanent legislative ban, to be enshrined in legislation later this year, will protect the ‘clean, green’ reputation of Victoria’s agriculture sector, which employs more than 190,000 people.
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, the 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.
Unconventional gas refers to an underground source of natural gas found in the layers of three types of rock structures (coal seams, tight rocks and shale rocks), which may be extracted by high pressure pumping of water, sand and sometimes chemicals into these structures to release the gas.
Conventional gas usually involves drilling directly into gas trapped in porous rocks, which is released without the need for high pressure pumping or fracking.
VFF welcomes government decisions
VFF Land Management chairman Gerald Leach said the government’s decisions to ban all onshore unconventional gas development and extend the conventional gas moratorium were a win for Victorian farmers, who have been calling for an on-going ban on all forms of onshore gas development until at least 2020.
Mr Leach said the VFF 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.
Source: Department of Premier and Cabinet, VFF.