Liberal and National MPs break ranks over fracking concerns

The penny appears to be dropping for Liberal and National MPs on the serious risks posed by fracking in Western Australia.

The fracking industry is targeting an estimated 280 trillion cubic feet of gas in Western Australia.  A fully developed fracking industry would see tens of thousands of wells and associated pipeline infrastructure imposed upon large regions of prime farming, pastoral and tourism land.

Fracking for shale gas, which is the type of frackable gas we have in WA, also involves drilling through our water resources, to reach the gas beneath.  Experience around Australia and around the world suggests that the casing on more than one in 20 of these wells fails in the first year. Many more fail as the wells age. Given the chemicals used in the fracking process, this poses an unacceptable risk to our underground drinking water.  When you consider that exploration is currently being undertaken for gas beneath the northern Yarragadee aquifer, which supplies Perth with a significant portion of its drinking water, this is a big problem

This is why it was so pleasing to see Liberal Hon. Simon O’Brien MLC acknowledge recently that the Barnett Government’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into fracking, which Mr O’Brien chaired, had been “underwhelming”.

Of principal concern to Mr O’Brien was the government’s refusal to establish a statutory body to function as an independent umpire for land owners and resources companies in land access negotiations.  Under current WA law, farmers and other land owners cannot stop fracking companies coming onto their land, if they are determined to do so.

This reality poses enormous risk to communities that depend on farming and tourism for jobs in our regions, as well as the underground water resources that give these communities life.

Setting up an independent umpire isn’t the silver bullet that makes fracking safe.  Experience around the world shows the fracking decimates its surrounds, no matter which regulatory environment it operates in. 

However, giving farmers and other land owners a level playing field in their negotiations with global fracking companies would be a step toward fairness, and provide a forum for all of the risks fracking poses to regional communities to be discussed for each fracking proposal.

Mr O’Brien isn’t alone on the conservative side of politics in recognising the problems fracking poses to regional communities.

Last month, the state Member for Moore, Shane Love MLA - a Nationals MP - declared he supported veto rights that would give WA farmers the ability to stop fracking companies drilling on their land.  This position has since been rebuked by Mr Moore’s leader, Terry Redman, who has stated that the Nationals do not support veto rights for farmers. One has to wonder whether Mr Redman still regards farmers as a core constituency for his party. Increasingly it doesn’t look like he does.

While, within their respective parties, Mr O’Brien and Mr Love remain in a minority of voices expressing concern about fracking, their recent public statements point to a growing recognition of the risks this dangerous and accident-prone industry poses to Western Australia.