Bill Johnston: Fracking comments need to wait

Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston says he will be able to make further comments about fracking and concerns about the pollution of underground water supplies after the WA fracking inquiry has finished its report.

THE McGowan Government says it will be better able to respond to concern current technology and fracking regulations may not guarantee underground water supplies will remain unpolluted after the inquiry it set up reports back.

Last week Yanchep News Online asked Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston and Water Minister Dave Kelly to respond to comments made by GHD executive Blair Shackleton at the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA annual business lunch on Friday, April 20.

Ryan Vogwill the author of a report released in May last year said he agreed with Mr Shackleton.

Dr Vogwill said the oil and gas companies, including those with permits in the Gingin and Muchea areas, worked under an assumption that hydraulic fracturing would not have negative effects but he and an increasing proportion of both the scientific and wider community disagreed.

Mr Johnston said one of the McGowan Government’s election commitments was to permanently ban hydraulic fracture stimulation in the South West, Perth and Peel regions, and establish a state-wide moratorium across the rest of the state while a scientific inquiry – the Independent Scientific Panel Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracture Simulation in WA – was held.

“We achieved a legislative ban in those three regions in December last year and commenced an independent inquiry, chaired by Dr Tom Hatton,’’ he said.

“The inquiry is considering submissions and will publish its report later this year.

“I will be able to comment further after the Government has considered the inquiry’s report.”

Dr Vogwill, whose report Western Australia’s Tight Gas Industry was partly funded by Frack Free Future WA, said the areas of WA where hydraulic fracturing was most likely to be carried out were not hydrogeologically well understood, particularly the deep parts of the aquifer systems.

“In my opinion hydraulic fracturing should never be allowed in areas where groundwater could potentially be used for urban or agricultural water supply (both now and into the future),’’ he said.

“Areas with significant groundwater dependant ecosystems and within conservation estate (national parks etc) must also be avoided.

“We also need to better understand the inherent risks of hydraulic fracturing in the context of well integrity and leakage and the effect of waste water injection and its subsequent seismic activity on regional and local scale groundwater flow and quality.

Also more understanding about the role of faults and other conduits in fluid migration before and after hydraulic fracturing was required.

He said the increased seismic activity from hydraulic fracturing and waste water injection would increase well integrity failure rates and possibly reactivate faults, increasing their permeability, allowing contaminant transport to shallow aquifers and the environment.

“The cost to obtain this understanding should not be borne by tax payers but should be paid by the oil and gas companies who are the proponents of these projects and stand to gain the most.

“The oil and gas companies could have done much more with their existing drilling operations to collect hydrogeologically meaningful data to allow better understanding of not only groundwater resources but the likelihood and location of impacts of hydraulic fracturing, but they haven’t.

Dr Vogwill said the level of regulation needed to be increased considerably.

“I think hydraulic fracturing should have to meet the same regulatory requirements as the mining industry as it has a much higher impact potential than conventional oil and gas projects due to the huge numbers of well required and large aerial extent of projects.

“If we are going to undertake hydraulic fracturing we need to urgently start trying to understand these issues as a sufficient understanding to allow us to rigorously assess hydraulic fracturing risk is 10 years or more away in my opinion, if we start now.

“Although we take access to fresh water for granted in our society, water is likely to become one of the most important (if not the most important) commodity for us moving forward.

“We need to collectively ask do we want to risk our water resources (or use them) on hydraulic fracturing.

“The people of Cape Town in South Africa are currently getting a taste of what happens when access to fresh water is restricted by bad water supply management.’’