The exploration and extraction of unconventional gas, which includes shale gas, tight gas and coal seam gas (CSG) has emerged over the last decade as a major social and environmental issue. Only 10 years ago the unconventional gas industry was basically non-existent outside of North America. In a short period of time we have seen a massive expansion of the industry in Australia, particularly in Queensland and in NSW. Farming communities in Victoria have more recently had unconventional gas exploration and mining licences granted in the area.
Unconventional gas extraction is associated with major environmental and community health impacts. This includes contamination of surface and groundwater, soil contamination, health impacts from exposure to chemicals and waste products, hydrological impacts from over-extraction of water, land clearing and habitat fragmentation, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and induced seismic events. Most projects have been fast-tracked with extremely poor Environmental Impact Assessments, and very little government regulation.
In areas where there are numerous exploration licences, communities have been forced to fight such developments, which directly threaten their health and livelihoods. Across Australia, many communities have joined the Lock the Gate Alliance and declared themselves Coal and Gasfield free, with more than 95% opposition to unconventional gas mining in all surveyed communities. However, State Governments and companies continue to pursue these risky projects and ignore the threats to communities.
The ABC Four Corners program provides a good introduction to the issue in Australia:
Josh Fox does a follow-up documentary to his hit Gasland about the propaganda and misinformation that the hydraulic fracking industry puts out. He refutes the claims by the industry that fracking is clean and safe.