Fracking under fire
Opponents of Coal Seam Gas mining rally in Lismore NSW, May 2012 (Photo supplied by David Lowe)
Councils in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and, more recently, Victoria have been vocal in their opposition to the exploration for and mining of Coal Seam Gas, arguing that fracking can have dire environmental, social and economic consequences.
In May this year, Bass Shire Council called on the Victorian Government to institute a moratorium on all new coal seam gas explorations until a comprehensive investigation was undertaken into the industry.
Colac Otway Shire Council has also added its voice to the call for a moratorium, as further evidence of negative environmental impacts have come to light. Councillor Stuart Hart, in moving the motion for a moratorium, expressed concerns about the effects on farmland, food security, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, tourism, local economies, and the “dislocation of local communities”.
“I believe gas fracking is not carried out in the best interests of the environment or local communities and the government should not grant any further exploration licences until a thorough investigation has taken place into the industry,” said Cr Hart.
The Victorian Government has now joined the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas, alongside the Federal, Queensland, NSW and South Australian governments. In signing the agreement, the Baillieu government agrees to abide by national rules governing the process of exploring and/or mining for CSG.
In NSW, the Local Government and Shires Association (LGSA) has welcomed the release of the Parliamentary Committee Report into Coal Seam Gas and the recommendation for a cautious approach to the future development of CSG in NSW.
President of the Local Government Association of NSW, Councillor Keith Rhoades said, “Whilst it’s true that Coal Seam Gas extraction and mining have the potential to bring economic benefits and employment to townships, the environmental impact, the social and housing impacts, and the lifestyle of local communities and individuals need to be taken into consideration.
“We welcome the development of Strategic Regional Land Use Plans, provided these plans identify and include benefits for the community as well as measures to plan for, manage and mitigate the negative impacts of resource development.”
In a related move, legislation has been passed in the Federal House of Representatives that establishes an Independent Expert Scientific Committee (as of July 1st) to provide advice on the impact of coal seam gas and large coal mining proposals on water resources.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said that in establishing the Committee, the Government “Wants to make sure that decisions by governments in relation to coal and coal seam gas developments are informed by the most rigorous scientific evidence available, in particular where those developments are likely to have a significant impact on water.”
There is no doubt that state and federal governments are responding to community pressure reagrding CSG, including heeding calls from councils for tougher controls and more research. While questions about the industry’s environmental safety persist and its economic viability is also under scrutiny, it seems imperative that councils maintain their focus on CSG and on their communities’ best interests.