Fracking in WA

-Update (April 2015)-

The inquiry into Fracking in WA started in October 2013 and was predicted to take two years to finish. It has received over 100 reviews including Robin Chapple’s submission, visited Broome and the Midwest and sought evidence on the implications for fracking.

Commercial Fracking has not started in WA but exploration tenements have been approved. Buru Energy was allowed to frack for gas in Western Australia’s north without an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) assessment. This led to a fracking network being placed on Yawuru land without permission last year.  Also, Sydney based company AWE discovered what could be Western Australia’s largest onshore gas field in the Perth Basin, this has also led to the early stages of three wells.

Small communities continue to fight against Fracking, as can be seen by the shire of Coorow, a group of small towns who voted unanimously in August 2014 to suspend all fracking activity in the area pending a full environmental assessment and public inquiry.

Tasmania extended is moratorium on fracking for another five years in Feb 2015. This decision was done to protect Tasmania’s reputation as a purveyor of fresh, clean and safe produce from the uncertainty that fracking brings.

The wait for the finding of the inquiry has still seen numerous exploration tenements and early drilling occur, which means Robin Chapple will continue to oppose all forms of fracking in WA.


What is Fracking?

The Short Version: Fracking refers to the extraction of all forms of unconventional gas by pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down deep wells.

The Long Version: Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process used to create fractures and fissures in source rock formations that hold unconventional gas[1] such as coal seam, shale and sandstone. In most cases, a well is drilled vertically down to the target formation, then horizontally through the formation. Small explosive charges are then set off at intervals along the horizontal section to make a series of small cracks.  The rock is then ready for fracking and a slurry (comprising of water, sand and chemicals) is injected into the well at intense pressure, causing the small cracks to split and fracture.  The sand props these fractures open and when the slurry is pumped back to the surface natural gas, which is now freed from the pores in the fractured rock, flows.

Where is fracking occurring?: The practice of fracking for shale, coal seam and tight gas is well established in the United States of America and is becoming more common elsewhere in the world.  Western Australia is highly prospective for shale gas in the Canning Basin (Kimberley and East Pilbara regions) and for tight and shale gas throughout the Northern Perth Basin (Mid West region), which stretches the length of the coastal plain from Busselton through to north of Geraldton.  WA’s shale and tight gas industry is exploring these areas to see if fracking is viable, and although there is a lot of interest there currently aren’t any plans for any petroleum wells in WA to undergo fracking (as of October 2013)[2].

The Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) has recently introduced new regulations after a report into the regulations surrounding unconventional gas exploration found a number of gaps in regulation, including that environmental management plans were unenforceable.  These new regulations ensure that all chemicals used in fracking in Western Australia must be disclosed to the public and makes a summary of environmental management plans available from the DMP.  These new regulations have created a level of transparency that is very welcome, but there is still room for improvement in the transparency around monitoring and enforcement of the environmental management plan. In September 2013 there was a WA Parliamentary inquiry into unconventional gas fracking. 

 

 

To view Robin's submission to the inquiry, click here: Robin Chapple’s Submission for Fracking Inquiry.

The Concerns:  Unfortunately drilling up to 3km below the surface and pumping chemicals at high pressure into the ground does have its risks. And there are a lot of them.

  • Pollution of ground and surface water:It is common sense that hazardous chemicals should not be permitted to enter our waterways, whether these are above ground or below, flowing or still.  The CSIRO recently released a report that confirms what many have been saying – the long term impacts of chemicals used in and released by fracking are unknown and risky[3]. Chemicals commonly associated with fracking include hydrochloric acid, benzene, toluene, xylene, formaldehyde, aldehyde, polyacrylamides and chromates. Of 23 commonly used fracking chemicals used in Australia, only TWO have been assessed for safety by the Australian National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS)[4]. Many of the commonly used chemicals associated with fracking are known carcinogens.  The risk of fracturing fluids leaking into the water table is a possibility from imperfect seals on cement columns around the well casing, and this, as it has in the US, would cause serious irreversible water contamination[5]
  • Groundwater depletion: With each ‘frack’ using up to 34 million litres of water[6], our groundwater can easily be depleted. There are proposals for over 100,000 wells in the Kimberley region. The only water available here is from the artesian basin or aquifers, which support the natural environment. Underground water supplies also support

    desert communities and the cattle industry, and they could support a host of other activities currently being considered by Aboriginal communities. Fracking could rule these out forever and that is just not a fair or egalitarian use of our natural resources.

  • Links to earthquake swarms: There has recently been a study published in the journal Science by one of the world’sleading seismology labs that looks into how major earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger reflex quakes in areas where fluids have been injected into the ground from fracking[7].  It identified three quakes in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas that were triggered at injection-well sites by major earthquakes long distances away.

  • Greater Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Drilling unconventional gas wells is extremely carbon intensive. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research estimates that CO2 emissions from drilling of shale gas wells amount to 15kg CO2 per foot drilled from diesel powered engine use alone[8]. In addition, diesel use during the hydraulic fracturing process adds significantly more carbon pollution[9].  On average 110,000 litres of diesel is used to frack a shale or tight formation.It has also been found that fracking causes more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gas or oil extraction, due to the high level of methane emissions which escapes into the atmosphere from well venting and leaks[10]
  • Radiation risk: Shale formations can contain high levels of radioactive material. Drilling and fracking shale can release very high levels of radioactive Radium 226. Radium is over 1 million times more radioactive than the same mass of uranium. Fracking wastewater in the US has been found to have up to 32,000 times more radionuclides than drinking water standards allow[11]. Fracking can release these chemicals and radioactive material into the environment including groundwater drinking supplies.
  • Impact on our landscape:If an area is found to have significant gas and is finally developed into a producing gas field, hundreds or even thousands of wells could be drilled and fracced.  Each individual well requires up to 35,000 square metres of land to be cleared. In an operating gas field, every well will be connected via piping and every well will require vehicle access. A road plus pipeline easement can be up to about 40m wide[12].  A gas field eventually ends up resembling a giant pin cushion, with every pin connected to one another by roads and pipes, destroying farmland and fragmenting natural ecosystems to the point of collapse.

The Greens Position: The Greens oppose the Barnett Government’s reckless promotion of the fledgling shale and tight gas industry.  The Barnett Government is ignoring our State’s already excessive contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.  A re-investment of funds in favour of developing the renewable energy sources with which WA, as detailed in the Greens’ comprehensive Energy 2029 plan[13], is a far safer way to secure a prosperous future for Western Australians to come.

What the Greens propose: The world already has more than 5 times the amount of fossil fuel available than it can burn without raising the global temperature more than 2 degrees[14].  The only responsible course of action is to leave unconventional gas in the ground.  Development and investment in the unconventional gas industry is simply the wrong policy approach. 

The Greens call for a ban on unconventional gas and until such time as that ban is instituted, we need:

  • A higher royalty rate on unconventional gas wells, to better reflect the monitoring and enforcement complications required by each well.  (Currently, royalty rates for these wells are set at 50% of the rate of conventional gas wells[15])
  • No funding to be made available to assist in exploration and development of unconventional gas sources. (Currently, unconventional gas exploration may apply for funding from the $26.9 million ‘Innovative Drilling Program’ section of the Exploration Incentive Scheme, made up from Royalties for Regions money[16])
  • No hydraulic fracturing to be carried out until such time as the monitoring and enforcement scheme is undertaken by a third party.  (Currently, the DMP is responsible both for assisting and regulating industry)
  • No State Agreements with unconventional gas companies.
  • All aspects of the unconventional gas industry, including environmental management plans, monitoring regimes and results and enforcement actions to be fully transparent and publicly available.

[1] Unconventional gas refers to types of gas that are stored in complex systems that have previously required too much money and energy to extract at economic rates. To read more see http://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Energy/Hydraulic-fracturing/What-is-unconventional-gas
[2] Department of Mines and Petroleum, WA. 2013. Natural Gas from Shale and Tight Rocks Fact Sheet: Exploration in WA.  http://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/Petroleum/Natural-gas-from-shale-and-tight-1591.aspx
[3]Towie, Narelle, 2013, Environmental Affects of Fracking Unclear: CSIRO Study, Science Network WA, http://www.sciencewa.net.au/topics/industry-a-resources/item/1948-environmental-affects-of-fracking-unclear-csiro-study.html
[4] NTN. 2011. Fracking chemicals have never been tested for safety. http://ntn.org.au/2011/02/21/call-for-moratorium-as-report-finds-fracking-chemicals-have-never-been-tested-for-safety/
[5]UNEP, 2012, Gas Fracking: Can We Safely Squeeze the Rocks?, UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service, http://na.unep.net/geas/archive/pdfs/GEAS_Nov2012_Fracking.pdf
[6]UNEP, 2012, Gas Fracking: Can We Safely Squeeze the Rocks?, UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service, http://na.unep.net/geas/archive/pdfs/GEAS_Nov2012_Fracking.pdf
[7]Ellsworth, William, 2013, Injection-Induced Earthquakes, Science 341 (6142), http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6142/1225942
[8] Tyndall Centre. 2011. Shale Gas: a provisional assessment of climate changes and environmental impacts. http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/coop_shale_gas_report_final_200111.pdf
[9] Tyndall Centre. 2011. Shale Gas: a provisional assessment of climate changes and environmental impacts. http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/coop_shale_gas_report_final_200111.pdf
[10]Howarth, Robert, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea, 2011, Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations, Climate Change 106 (4): 679-690, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0061-5
[11] http://treichlerlawoffice.com/radiation/nysdoh_marcellus_concerns_090721.pdf
[12] CCWA. 2012. Briefing Paper: The threat of fracking and onshore unconventional gas in WA. 
[13] To view the plan visit http://www.greenswa.net.au/energy2029
[14] B.McKibben. 2012. ‘Terrifying New Math’, In Rolling Stones Politics,  www.rollingstones.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719. (Information originally from “Unburnable Carbon – are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?” (Campanale and Leggett, Carbon Tracker Initiative)
[15] Ministerial Media Statement - http://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/7105_8368.aspx
[16] Exploration Incentive Scheme - http://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/7743.aspx

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