Concern about fracking continues

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The McGowan Government has appointed independent experts to its fracking inquiry while another hydrogeologist’s report refers to the Moore River and the Gingin Brook as just two of northern Perth basin’s major river systems.

CONCERN about fracking needs to be met with a high level of independent scientific rigour, according to the McGowan Government.

To achieve this the government has appointed independent experts who the government says will use credible science to assess the risks associated with fracking.

The government announced earlier this month that hydrogeologist Dr Philip Commander, regional development, agriculture and environment expert Professor Fiona Haslam McKenzie, human health and toxicology expert Dr Jackie Wright and Dr Michael Clennell, a research leader in petrophysics, geomechanics and structural geology had been appointed to the Independent Scientific Panel Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation.

The government said the inquiry, to be chaired by Dr Tom Hatton, an esteemed long-term science leader, would hold public meetings in Perth and the Mid-West and Kimberley regions, with opportunities for public submissions.

In May this year Ryan Vogwill released a report, Western Australia’s Tight Gas Industry, which he said aimed to summarise the potential impacts to groundwater resources and dependent ecosystems in WA from the extraction of tight and shale gas.

In his report Dr Vogwill refers to the northern Perth basin – in this basin Moore River and the Gingin Brook are just two of area’s major river systems.

He said the hydrogeology of the northern Perth basin was known from a network of widely spaced government exploratory bores, from private bores and hydrocarbon exploration wells.

The Gingin groundwater area had an allocation limit of 187GL across all of the aquifers, of which 140GL was already licensed and 30 GL were still being assessed in 2015.

Dr Vogwill, who had some financial support from Frack Free Future WA to fund some of the time he spent on the report, said there were examples of peer-reviewed literature showing serious unconventional gas impacts on groundwater in the US, which should provide a warning to WA that impacts do occur and were usually found by third parties.

“In particular, the typical lack of baseline data collected prior to any unconventional hydrocarbon industrial activity occurring makes impacts difficult to conclusively identify,’’ he said.

“Areas where tight gas exploration or production occurs are at risk of impact, the level of risk depending on local factors which are currently difficult to assess due to a lack of data.

“Hence a precautionary approach should be applied as hydraulic stimulation is irreversible.

“If there is no significant impact potential, this should be provable. “Exploration alone has capacity to impact groundwater resources and the environment, albeit on a local scale near sites that are hydraulically stimulated, including areas hydraulically connected to those sites through faults and other potential conduits.

“The development of a full production scale tight gas industry in WA has the potential for similar regional-scale impacts to water resources as have been observed in other jurisdictions.

“There is no proof that impacts which have occurred elsewhere cannot or will not happen in WA, particularly in areas such as the Canning basin in the Kimberley and the North Perth basin in the Mid-West that we are only just starting to understand hydrogeologically. “There are exploration leases which cover many parts of the Canning and northern Perth basins, but also in many other parts of WA including the South West.

“In areas set aside for conservation or public drinking water source protection, it is advisable to exclude all tight gas activities.’’

He said even if economically viable deposits were found in those areas, extracting them would pose an unacceptable risk based on the issues explored in his report.

“There are current exploration leases over the Gnangara mound, Perth’s most important groundwater resource, for example.

“Public drinking water source protection areas in rural WA are also covered by exploration leases, as are many areas of groundwater-supported agriculture.”

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said the government recognised the need to understand the risks associated with extracting petroleum products using fracking and to protect the state’s environment from those risks.

“The level of community concern about fracking needs to be met with a high level of independent scientific rigour, which is why these four experienced and respected experts have been appointed,’’ he said.

“The appointment of a scientific panel of this calibre provides certainty to the community that the risks associated with unconventional oil and gas will be rigorously assessed and that the regulatory means to identify and minimise those risks will be pursued.”

Lock the Gate WA spokeswoman Jane Hammond said it was vital that the terms of reference looked at the socio-economic impacts of fracking as well as the impact on water, health, land, livelihood, communities, air quality, climate and existing industries.

“Across WA we are hearing calls for a broadening of the terms of reference for the inquiry so that it does not become a rubber stamp for the fracking industry,’’ she said.

“We welcome the panel of experts but would also like to see communities, landholders and traditional owners represented more extensively to the inquiry.”