The State Government has issued licenses to fracking companies to explore in some of our most productive farming lands, in the Southwest, Gascoyne, Midwest, Carnarvon, Kimberley and even the Swan Valley.
The fracking industry is planning tens of thousands of gas wells across the state, meaning some of these important economic regions could be crisscrossed with a web of dangerous and unsightly well and pipeline infrastructure.
The Western Australian economy needs a diverse range of sustainable industries to create jobs and opportunities for the future. The last thing we should be doing is allowing the gas fracking industry to destroy farming jobs, and threaten food security.
In addition to feeding our rapidly growing population, agriculture provides long-term, sustainable jobs that we shouldn’t be putting at risk for another short-term mining boom.
Places we rely upon are threatened
Western Australia is one of the world's great foodbowls. Shale gas fracking has the potential to threaten the water that family farmers need to keep their farms productive - shale gas fracking presents a real threat to WA food security and to valuable export markets.
If a shale gas fracking industry is allowed to develop unconstrained, the Mid West, Gascoyne and South West will soon be pockmarked by tens of thousands of gas wells, along with all the roads, parking bays and pipelines that an operating gasfield requires.
Already in the US, 450 000 wells have transformed landscapes into an unsightly spider's web of wells, tracks, wastewater ponds, pumps and pipeline infrastructure.
And what happens when the industry leaves town? Who is going to clean up the mess? Or will we just be left with a legacy of abandoned wells, leaking pollution into our water sources.
A Kimberley landscape
We should consider cumulative risks
We should consider the cumulative risk of gas fracking – that is, the risk that something might go wrong at any one of tens of thousands of wells, and the impact that that number of wells will have on the surface. The sheer scale of development characteristic of gas fracking increases the odds of something going wrong, and of the public being exposed to the risk of groundwater contamination, surface water pollution or air pollution.
Scale of damage
Much of Western Australia’s shale and tight gas lies below some of the most beautiful and bio-diverse regions in the world – the wildflower region of the Mid West, the Ningaloo region and the Fitzroy River region in the West Kimberley.
A typical gas well site has 3.6 hectare surface footprint [i] - and there is the potential for tens of thousands of wells across the Midwest and Kimberley.
You do the maths – the gas fracking industry is going to change Western Australian landscapes – and forever - because it is impossible to completely rehabilitate an abandoned gas fracking site. From the European Commission Report on Shale Gas Fracking:[ii]
"The evidence suggests that it may not be possible fully to restore sites in sensitive areas following well completion or abandonment, particularly in areas of high agricultural, natural or cultural value... this could result in a significant loss or fragmentation of... valuable farmland or natural habitats."
Shale gas fracked moonscape in Wyoming, USA
Speed of development
Gas fracking fields can emerge with alarming speed. In Queensland and New South Wales, despite vocal community opposition, several thousand coal seam gas wells have been drilled within a few short years.
The Barnett shale in Texas grew from 400 gas wells in 2004, to well over 10,000 wells today.
Are we ready for that in Western Australia?
Graph showing the speed with which the industry developed in Texas - note the explosion in development from 2000 onwards
[i] Broomfield Mark, Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe. AEA Technology, 2012, available onhttp://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/energy/pdf/fracking%20study.pdf, pg vii