Conflict of interest over shale gas

Conflict of interest over shale gas by John Flint, June 9, 2013, The Sunday Times,
THE Conservation Council of WA claims the government department responsible for regulating gas fracking in WA is compromised – because it is also promoting the industry. The state’s peak environment group has called on the Minister for Mining and Petroleum Bill Marmion to “act immediately to address conflicts of interest.” The Department of Mines and Petroleum is the regulator of shale gas fracking. The Conservation Council claims senior officials within the department have “dismissed the environmental risks and criticised community groups for spreading `misinformation’ about the risks.” “The comments are a clear demonstration of the conflict of interest that results from a government agency charged with both promoting gas fracking, and regulating the environmental impacts of the industry,” said CCWA Director Piers Verstegen.

“While we have come to expect misleading public-relations spin from the gas industry, the fact that a senior government regulator paid by WA taxpayers is engaged in these activities is nothing short of frightening. By totally dismissing serious environment and health concerns, these statements only serve to further undermine community confidence in the inadequate regulatory system that is supposed to protect Western Australian communities and the environment from this highly risky activity. Attacks on community organisations by government regulators are totally disingenuous and CCWA strongly defends any statements we have made regarding the risks of shale gas fracking in Western Australia.”

Mr Verstegen added:  “Not only is the Department of Mines and Petroleum subject to an appalling conflict of interest, a recent review commissioned by the Government reveals that the agency lacks the basic legal powers necessary to enforce environmental standards in the gas fracking industry. “Clearly gas fracking must be regulated by an independent agency that does not act as an unashamed promoter of gas fracking, and which has the necessary legal powers to manage the serious risks inherent in this activity. “If these serious issues are not corrected urgently, then we are likely to see a repeat of what has occurred in Queensland, where local communities have lost faith in environmental regulators, and where conflict between communities and gas companies has become bitter and embedded.”

Mr Marmion last night responded that he had complete faith in the department as the State’s lead regulator for the resources industry. “The department is a fair and robust regulator, ensuring the responsible development of WA’s petroleum industry – which it has regulated for the past 60 years – for the benefit of all Western Australians,” Minister Marmion said. “In the case of WA’s emerging natural gas from shale and tight sandstone sector, a cautious and considered approach is being taken to ensure strong regulation is in place, and communities and the environment will be protected. “Part of this approach means we welcome input from all interest groups and communities, to ensure community expectations are being met.” [Emphasis added]

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