The company, which also has permits in the Otway and the Cooper/Eromanga basins, discovered gas reserves in impermeable reservoirs in the Seaspray Depression – about 30 km south of Sale – in the late 1990s, and remains the only firm to have performed onshore fracture stimulate operations in Victoria.
The wells were fracture stimulated 11 times between 2004 and 2009.
The operator’s perspective
RIGHT: Rob Annells
Lakes Oil has spent in excess of AU$80 million exploring the potential for onshore gas resources in the Gippsland and Otway basins.
Since the moratorium was introduced the company’s operations in Gippsland have stalled. The well heads, located in the company’s Wombat field permits, stand unmanned, inactive and in silence behind wire fences.
“Now, you have to keep in mind that in the Gippsland region alone, over the last 50 years thousands of holes have been drilled by other exploration companies,” Rob Annells, the chairman of Lakes Oil told Gas Today.
“And you can be sure they weren’t completed under the same safety regulations as our wells, because they were not subject to the same regulations back then.”
Mr Annells is understandably fatigued by the past three years of government intervention and says his company has borne the brunt of the community upheaval against onshore unconventional gas since 2012.
Signs of protest from the opposition lobby, Lock the Gate, are on almost every fence that surrounds the company’s permits. However, the area’s residents, Gas Today discovered while travelling through the area, are not so willing to speak candidly about the issue.
“It is because most people do not understand or know what we want to do. They don’t know the science behind onshore production. And to be perfectly honest, if I was a farmer in one of these areas and someone was telling me that the water table is going to be ruined or my children would be born with two heads, I would be upset too,” Mr Annells said.
“But as to what constitutes conventional gas, what constitutes tight gas, what constitutes fracking and then separately what constitutes coalbed methane – that is the biggest problem. The community, the politicians and the public all need to understand the differences between all of those sorts of energy.”
Since the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into onshore gas commenced, Mr Annells said the campaign against onshore gas had left the industry for dust, reaching more members of the community with their message than the companies could ever hope to.
He admitted that he had seen a notable improvement in the basic knowledge shown by the committee’s members. That knowledge, however, is not being rallied throughout the concerned communities of Gippsland.
“Unfortunately the wider public have not had the same advantage of having the industry, manufacturers, suppliers, and all the people that have presented to the committee, presenting to the community. And what is desperately needed is community consultation.”
Gippslanders’ gripes: a councillor’s perspective
RIGHT: Neil Rankine
Gas opposition in Gippsland is far reaching, cautious of big business and highly protective of their natural landscape.
So much so, in fact, that the “clean and green image” of Gippsland has been enshrined into local government policy. This has subsequently helped the Bass Coast Shire’s campaign to stop unconventional gas in its tracks.
“But to be frank there is not a lot that council can do to stop the industry coming in,” Neil Rankine, Hovell Ward councillor, admitted. “What we can do is stop the companies from having access to the council-owned assets, like roads.”
While the council’s position is strictly opposed, Mr Rankine admits that awareness of the similarities between onshore and offshore unconventional gas is less known.
Further, when asked if many gas companies had been forthcoming with information and consultation, the councillor said just one had discussed the issue with the shire – Lakes Oil.
“But I don’t think we want or need more research or consultation.”
The sticking point for many in the community, he says, is the fear of something going wrong and the long-term viability of an onshore gas industry.
“If it is unconventional, where they are drilling a whole lot of holes, there is a suspicion that they will not do as good of a job to ensure that the well heads are not going to leak 10, 20 or 100 years down the track.