Fracking a headache for Napthine by Farrah Tomazin, September 29, 2013, The Age
The Napthine government is headed for a pre-election showdown with farmers, miners and environmentalists as it decides whether to lift a moratorium on the controversial practice of fracking. The government is expected to receive high-level advice recommending expansion of coal seam gas (CSG) in some of its most politically sensitive areas, a move that could cause a split within Coalition ranks. Well-placed sources believe a review by former federal minister Peter Reith will strongly endorse development of CSG and other types of ”unconventional gas” in Victoria, arguing that action is needed in the face of future price increases. … But any shift is likely to prove contentious for government MPs in country seats, where farmers fear that fracking – the process of extracting gas by injecting water and chemicals underground – could be detrimental to their land and water supplies. Victoria does not have a coal seam gas industry, but about 24 licences have been granted for unconventional gas exploration around the state – including in the seats of Premier Denis Napthine and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan. In the Nationals heartland of Gippsland, Lakes Oil, which is partly owned by Gina Rinehart, has already fracked 11 sites, and is ready to frack another, known as the Wombat gasfield, as soon as the moratorium is lifted.
Victoria’s moratorium has been in place since August last year, but any decision to lift the ban is likely to spark divisions within government ranks. City MPs are believed to be broadly in favour of development, while country Nationals and Liberals are concerned about a regional backlash. The government says it has not yet received Mr Reith’s report, but in a sign of the sensitivities, several MPs recently travelled to Queensland on a mission to learn more about the CSG industry.
Of main concern to critics is the fear that fracking not only opens up cracks in the coal seam, but could also result in gas escaping into drinking water as it rises to the surface. ”We rely 100 per cent on underground water to run our business, to drink, to shower, to irrigate. If anything goes wrong, it would cripple us,” said Denison farmer Kate Lamb. Farmers also say Mr Ryan and the Nationals have not consulted them enough, and warn that any threat to their land and business would have consequences at next year’s state election. Tensions are also likely to simmer in the state’s west, where companies are also eyeing off sites near Geelong and the Otways. ”We know of farmers who have written to Peter Ryan and said their whole families have traditionally been National voters and are now wondering: ‘what do we do, who do we vote for?”’ said Di Flint, who runs a livestock farm with her husband in Seaspray. ”Farmers don’t want it. There are too many unanswered questions,” she said. [Emphasis added]