Last weekend, members of Quit Coal made the trip to the lovely beach-town of Seaspray: home of 90 Mile Beach and numerous pending fracking licenses.
The community of Seaspray have faced fracking before, in the mid 2000s. And they have been on their toes ever since mid-2013, when gas company Lakes Oil made clear their intention to conduct exploratory drilling in farmland surrounding the town.
The last year has been tough for the people of Seaspray. Just a few months ago, a trusted source alerted Quit Coal and Gasfield Free Seaspray to the fact that Lakes Oil was expecting the moratorium to be lifted in June and were preparing to begin drilling in the area soon afterwards. What followed was an exhausting May, in which the people of Seaspray, Lock the Gate Victoria and Friends of the Earth campaigned tirelessly for information on the matter and a suspension of drilling licences. Under an enormous amount of community pressure, the government suspended all drilling licences until 2015 (which some of us would say is clear election pandering, but I don’t know who those people are…) and the people of Seaspray have been allowed some well-deserved rest.
Upon arriving in Seaspray last weekend we were greeted by locals Stephen, Julie, Kerrin and Tracey, who brought a horse, a dog and a fantastic picnic lunch with them. This was our first taste of what was to be a weekend of wonderful Seaspray hospitality. Later, local sheep farmers, Di and Kevin would put us up in their cosy cabin and host an amazing bonfire for us.
After gorging on lunch until we felt slightly sick, we were shown around the area. We got a taste for the wild sea and beautiful scrubby coastal bush, before getting a look at the nasty side of living in the area – Lakes Oil’s ubiquitous presence. We took a trip to the site of a disused gas well and a potential site for future fracking. We were unable to go past the gate, as the well is on private property, but we could see it clearly. Many of us were shocked by the location of the well – it is right on the riverbank and only a few hundred metres from where the town drinking water is collected. Given the high risk of water contamination and health impacts that come with fracking, the choice to mine there seems to be negligent at best.
We visited a few other disused drill heads and were surprised by the state of disrepair they were in – rusting with peeling paint. This did not seem like a thorough way to maintain an ex-industrial site.
What was perhaps most shocking though was the waste-water holding ponds. These are ponds where the contaminated water from fracking is left – presumably so that the water will evaporate and any other toxins can be safely collected. These were exposed to the elements, in one case on a working farm where cattle and other animals could have easily fallen in. The plastic, meant to stop the water from leeching into the earth, was ripped in many places. In one pond it was mostly gone.
The people of Seaspray are understandably distressed about this state of affairs – they have seen how little Lakes Oil cares about the community. Lakes Oil comes in, makes a mess and doesn’t clean up after themselves.
But the people of Seaspray are resilient too. They have fought hard for their town, their farms and their homes, and will fight harder if push comes to shove.
What struck me about the people in this community was their kindness. They are tired from over a year of exhausting campaigning, yet they still took their weekend off to show us around, generously feed us and answer all our silly questions about farming.
The weekend galvanised my investment in the campaign. The people of Seaspray simply deserve autonomy over the land they farm and live on. And the small traces of fracking already in the landscape were frightening… Imagine what could happen if Lakes Oil was allowed to start in earnest.