Call to scrap moratorium at unconventional gas inquiry

Paul Fennelly, Chief Operating Officer for Eastern Australia at APPEA

Paul Fennelly, Chief Operating Officer for Eastern Australia at APPEA

The future of Victoria’s gas industry was put under the microscope today during the second public hearing of the parliamentary inquiry into onshore unconventional gas.

A packed committee room heard testimony from the Melbourne Energy Institute, The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, the Victorian Farmers Federation and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association just to name a few.

Professor Peter Cook from the AATSE said while there are “no showstoppers” impeding the technology or resources needed for unconventional gas operations, it may not prove to be cheap for consumers.

“We found there were infrastructure considerations. So looking at US, they have lots of pipelines whereas Australia does not. This means that unconventional gas will never be as cheap as it is in the US, even if we found heaps of shale,” Mr Cook said.

“However we also noted that in Victoria there are a lot of pipelines, so there may be an advantage there.”

Support for industry was scarce at today’s hearing with Greens party demonstrators demanding an all-out ban on all onshore unconventional gas production on the steps of Parliament House.

Gerald Leach from the Victorian Farmers Federation called on the government to extend the current moratorium on onshore unconventional gas production to 2020, until “sufficient scientific evidence deems production safe”.

Mr Leach also requested that farmers be granted rights to veto approved gas mining licenses on private land, for fear of water contamination and threats crops and livestock.

When questioned about regulations that could be imposed on unconventional gas mining firms, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning director Chris McAuley confirmed the industry would “self-monitor” its use of groundwater if approved for a groundwater licence.

“From the Act’s perspective, any onshore unconventional gas development would be considered just another use of groundwater,” Mr McAuley said.

“Monitoring is usually on the proponent to undertake. And then they would be required to report on that monitoring.”

APPEA chief operating officer for eastern Australia, Paul Fennelly later defended the industry and called on the government to scrap the moratorium on onshore unconventional gas and install a Gas Fields Commission, similar to that of Queensland, to educate the community on the processes involved.

He said misinformation had plagued the industry’s development and there was an urgent need to crimp gas prices to assist the country’s manufacturing industries.

“If you go out to the manufacturing sector, if you go out to Altona where there are tens of thousands of jobs at risk because of uncertainty about our gas supply, I would say there is a ground swell of support for looking at onshore gas,” Mr Fennelly said.

“On the ground in Gippsland and in Otway, I am sure there is fear. The very fact that governments have imposed moratoriums because of political purposes that would incite fear and concern.”

“I don’t think it is a closed shop. I think people are interested in how we can put downward pressure on gas prices around this state.”

The state government is expected to release an official, whole-government submission to the inquiry later this month.

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