WA fracking inquiry concludes

After two years of evidence gathering, the WA Environment and Public Affairs Committee inquiry into fracking has found that the process poses a negligible threat and is beneficial to the state – but recommends the collection of data and openness with local communities is essential to increasing public acceptance.

The report, entitled Implications for Western Australia of Hydraulic Fracturing for Unconventional Gas, states that hydraulic fractures are unlikely to interfere with underground aquifers; that there is negligible risk of induced seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing of shale plays at depth; and formally “recognises the potential benefits of a shale gas industry as an employer, an investment generator and a provider of future energy security.”

Commenting on the report, Stedman Ellis, Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) chief operating officer – Western Region, said “[The report] mirrors the findings of numerous other inquiries and reviews here in Australia and overseas which have found that with careful regulation and industry best practice, fracking can be done safely.”

However, the Committee warns that the issue of public acceptance will remain – regardless of the findings in its report.

A wider spread of information and increased transparency of the involved parties was recommended in the interest of improving popular opinion associated with fracking. It said “In the course of its inquiries, it has become apparent to the Committee that industry must do more to truly consult effectively in order to address community concerns. It is essential that industry commits to providing more than merely scientific information to the community: operators must foster trust through early and wide-ranging engagement.”

The WA Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) was quoted in the report saying “As a government department that regulates this sector, we have not previously put a lot of time into actually being actively out there in those regional communities, but in the last two years, we have had a very intensive rolling program of getting out there that we have a responsibility as the regulator to be getting information to those communities about how the industry would be regulated, and also requirements on industry about how they work with their local communities.”

The report also raises questions about the rights of landowners and calls for increased channels of communication between the companies involved and the communities that would be affected by fracking. It states that “the relative bargaining strength of a landowner compared with a resource company is a significant issue in all jurisdictions.”

It suggests open discussions regarding access and increased support and rights for landowners and this is backed by APPEA. Mr Ellis said “APPEA and its members will continue to work with the State Government, landowners and other key stakeholders to ensure the shale gas industry is developed safely and sustainably for the benefit of all Western Australians.”

But overall the report is good news for the unconventional gas industry, and as Mr Ellis said, “The public can take confidence from the fact that the committee has broadly endorsed WA’s existing regulatory framework for onshore gas while making a number of sensible recommendations to enhance safeguards.”

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