ATSE urges Vic and NT to rely on science in unconventional gas debate

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) has urged the governments of Victoria and the Northern Territory to rely on scientific evidence in their approaches to natural gas exploration and production in their jurisdictions.

The ATSE is concerned that the Victorian Government has decided to introduce a permanent ban on unconventional gas exploration and extend a moratorium on onshore conventional gas exploration. Similarly, the Northern Territory Government has promised a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

The ATSE has undertaken or contributed to a number of activities relating to unconventional gas in recent years, including:

  • A 2013 report by the Australian Academy of Learned Academies (ACOLA) titled Engineering Energy: Unconventional Gas Production;
  • A 2015 international conference titled Unconventional Gas: Opportunities and Challenges, including a public forum on the issues around unconventional gas;
  • A 2015 international workshop of national Academies of engineering and science from Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, China, South Africa, Argentina, Germany and Switzerland, which considered the cumulative output of national reviews from these countries;
  • Submissions and contributions to a number of Australian reviews, including the Hawke Review in the NT, the Victorian Parliament’s inquiry, the Australian Senate’s inquiry into unconventional gas mining, and the review by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane AC FTSE.

The ATSE said that the scientific evidence examined through these activities has been clear – although unconventional gas extraction (including fracking) presents risks, these risks can be managed through the use of best practice, effective regulation and comprehensive baseline studies and monitoring. The social and community concerns about these risks are legitimately held and it is essential that governments and industry actively engage with communities through evidence-based information derived from properly conducted research, not via arbitrary, state-wide bans.

“Australia’s need to decarbonise its energy markets away from coal toward lower emissions sources will require greater reliance on natural gas as a transition fuel. Similarly, until such time as storage technologies are able to manage the issue of intermittency, gas will continue to be an important back up for renewable energy” said the ATSE.

“Further, Australian manufacturing and agriculture relies on adequate and reliable supplies of natural gas as a feedstock for important products such as plastics and fertilisers. To ensure the availability, stability of supply and the affordability of gas for industrial and domestic consumers, utilising new local sources of gas (both conventional and unconventional) will be critical.”

The ATSE urges the Victorian and Northern Territory Governments to reconsider their approaches and take a science-based approach to regulation of this industry. The ATSE welcomes the Victorian Government’s announcement that the Lead Scientist will undertake a review of the conventional gas moratorium, and encourages the NT Government to carefully consider the findings of the Hawke Review before implementing any further bans.

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