The long-awaited Victorian inquiry into unconventional gas has finally cranked into gear, after the state government released its terms of reference on 7 May 2015. The announcement of the terms of reference sparked some political controversy over its breadth, or perceived lack thereof. The Greens, with the ALP’s support, sought to extend the enquiry by three months amend and expand the terms of reference, to include inquiry into the costs of cleanup after a contamination event, the capacity of regulators to manage the industry, and the benefits of a permanent ban. Shockingly, the Victorian National party, who purports to put a voice to the interests of Victorian farming communities, voted down the proposed amendment.
Quit Coal welcomes the inquiry, which we hope will carefully consult community voices and scientific experts, and take a rigorous, conservation-based approach to investigating unconventional gas and fracking. There is currently a moratorium on unconventional gas drilling and fracking in Victoria, but much of the Victorian countryside is still under gas exploration licenses, held by gas companies keen to start drilling.
Despite our disappointment at the parliament’s refusal to expand the terms of reference, these terms are nonetheless quite broad. They contain a large number of questions focused on regulation and industry provisions, but there is definitely room (and pressure) for decision-makers to consult with communities on the front line, scores of which have officially declared themselves Coal and Gasfield Free – most recently tractors became our new favourite font.
The inquiry must take time to examine scientific data about the risks of fracking and unconventional gas, which continues to emerge as research is ongoing. To quote a recent Victorian government paper: “There is considerable scientific uncertainty over the long-term impact of unconventional gas production on the environment.”
We urge the inquiry to also focus on the long-term impacts fracking and unconventional gas can have on water quality, soil, seismic activity, vegetation, wildlife, and greenhouse gas emissions. The inquiry should also thoroughly examine the environmental impacts of associated industries, such as the manufacture of fracking fluid, fracking fluid waste disposal, and trucking.
We are glad that the Environment and Planning Committee is able to consider additional issues during the inquiry process. Quit Coal will be submitting a strong argument for banning unconventional gas and fracking in Victoria, and if the government truly examines the evidence and consults the community, this industry will not go ahead. As Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth said:
“Once all the evidence is presented, we believe that the government will have a compelling case that will require a permanent ban on all on-shore unconventional gas drilling. A growing number of states overseas are placing bans or long term moratoriums as the impacts of fracking become more apparent. Victoria has the ability to lock the gate to this destructive industry before it gets entrenched.”
We encourage readers and supporters to make submissions to the inquiry when the time comes (dates to be announced), but in the meantime you can get involved in Quit Coal, or if you are in the regions, join your local Lock the Gate group. And think about writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, let your local member of parliament know your views on unconventional gas, or write to the unconventional gas inquiry chairperson David Davis:
Phone (03) 9888 6244
Keep reading for more information on the terms of reference:
This House requires the Environment and Planning Committee to inquire into and consider matters relating to the exploration, extraction, production and rehabilitation for onshore unconventional gas and present an interim report no later than 1 September 2015 and a final report no later than 1 December 2015 and, in particular, the inquiry should include, but not be limited to, the following —
(1) the prospectivity of Victoria’s geology for commercial sources of onshore unconventional gas;
(2) the environmental, land productivity and public health risks, risk mitigations and residual risks of onshore unconventional gas activities;
(3) the coexistence of onshore unconventional gas activities with existing land and water
uses, including —
(a) agricultural production and domestic and export market requirements;
(b) the legal rights of property owners and the impact on property values; and
(c) any implications for local and regional development, investment and jobs;
(4) the ability of potential onshore unconventional gas resources contributing to the State’s overall energy sources including —
(a) an ability to provide a competitive source of energy and non energy inputs for Victorian industries;
(b) an affordable energy source for domestic consumers; and
(c) carbon dioxide emissions from these sources;
(5) the resource knowledge requirements and policy and regulatory safeguards that would be necessary to enable exploration and development of onshore unconventional gas resources, including —
(a) further scientific work to inform the effective regulation of an onshore unconventional gas industry, including the role of industry and government, particularly in relation to rigorous monitoring and enforcement, and the effectiveness of impact mitigation responses; and
(b) performance standards for managing environmental and health risks, including water quality, air quality, chemical use, waste disposal, land contamination and geotechnical stability;
(6) relevant domestic and international reviews and inquiries covering the management of risks for similar industries including, but not limited to, the Victorian Auditor-General Office’s report Unconventional Gas: Managing Risks and Impacts and other reports generated by the Victorian community and stakeholder engagement programs.