By Katherine Smyrk
You could almost hear the sigh of relief all the way from Gippsland on Wednesday, as residents from Seaspray discovered they would not have to set up a blockade in order to protect their town.
Energy Minister Russell Northe had announced that all unconventional gas drilling licenses in Victoria would be suspended for 12 months.
This decision follows months of horrible waiting for Seaspray, after discovering in December that Lakes Oil had applied for a license start horizontal drilling for gas in their area.
While these applications usually take around six weeks to approve, six months later the Energy Minister had not yet made a decision.
Meanwhile the community of Seaspray pledged to blockade the drill rigs, and planned to ride their horses up Bourke St to deliver that pledge.
It became a face off between a community prepared to blockade the drill site and a company ready to sue the government if their licence was rejected. This week’s decision is a clear demonstration of the unshakeable power of this community movement.
While this is an ENORMOUS victory, it is still not enough of a protection for Victorian communities. The Napthine government is just delaying any real decisions on unconventional gas until the safety of post-election 2015.
This announcement does not mean that Quit Coal will be sitting back and relaxing. It just means we only have 12 months to build so much community pressure around unconventional gas that the government has no choice but to ban it entirely, no matter who is in power.
This is going to be a continuing fight to protect our communities, our water and our environment. We still need the ongoing support and energy of all Victorians if we are going to win.
But we currently have more than 30 communities across Victoria undergoing the process to declare themselves Coal and Gas Free, and a closely-contested election in November where we have a chance to push for real decisions around coal and gas.
The Victorian government will be starting community consultations around gas next week, and the communities plan to be there in force, saying NO to any compromise on unconventional gas.
Stay tuned for more updates about unconventional gas in Victoria. If you want to get involved in building pressure on the government in the lead up to the state election, click here.