Last Friday afternoon, Ted Baillieu announced that, effective immediately, there would be a moratorium on fracking in Victoria until a national approach to the issue has been developed.
So what does this all mean?
‘Fracking’, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process where highly pressurised fluid is pumped in great quantities down an exploration well into coal, shale or rock deposits containing hydrocarbon gas. This fractures the deposits and enables the gas to be released.
The fluid used is a mixture of sand, water and sometimes chemicals. Of the 23 chemicals used in Australia in the fracking process, only 2 have been assessed by NICNAS (National Industrial Chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme).
This process has been used in the USA, Queensland and NSW, with devastating effects. The deposits are dangerously close to underground aquifers and there is great risk of the water becoming contaminated by leaking gas, fracking chemicals and salt water. This came all too true in Queensland, with footage revealed of gas bubbling on the surface of the Condamine River.
There is also a high rate of leakage from the above ground wells, which poses a great threat to the people in nearby areas and releases dangerous quantities of methane, which has about four times the impact as carbon dioxide.
There is no fracking or unconventional gas production in Victoria at the moment, but a worryingly large number of exploration licenses have been granted, specifically across Gippsland.
In April this year, Friends of the Earth and Quit Coal called for a moratorium (or ban) on all new Coal and unconventional gas projects in Victoria until the full effects on the environment and health has been investigated.
Six councils, 59 groups and 1,700 individuals have signed onto the moratorium and the state ALP has signed onto the section covering Coal Seam Gas.
The Liberal party has imposed a moratorium on fracking only. This is but one process used for the extraction of Coal Seam Gas, tight gas and shale gas. Unconventional gas can still be extracted from without fracking. And even without this dangerous process there are incredible problems still present such as toxic waste water, large amounts of extracted salt, and unacceptably high greenhouse gas emissions.
This ban also does not cover coal, which is not only the single biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the world, but has been linked extremely serious health impacts, including respiratory problems, cardiovascular conditions and cancer.
The moratorium is also only in place until a national approach is developed.This holds very little guarantee that very Victorians will be protected from the dangers of coal and unconventional gas extraction. The slightest token amendment from the Federal government could see Mr Baillieu lifting the moratorium, leaving us in exactly the same position.
The granting of the moratorium is an incredibly vindication for Quit Coal, Friends of the Earth and concerned communities across the state. For the first time, the State government is admitting that fracking and unconventional gas poses a very real threat to Victorians.
But the Victorian community knows that this ban is just an attempt to placate our fears and will not rest until we are fully protected from the threats of coal and unconventional gas.