Victoria bans fracking until 2015

Fracking is ongoing in many parts of Australia – business as usual. But there is a sigh of relief in Victoria, at least, for now. Re-blogging my post at AC over the weekend:

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Bad news for gas exploration ventures in Victoria: Fracking moratorium stays until 2015. But for Greenies, it is party time!

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine announced towards the weekend his government is extending the moratorium on the process of unconventional gas fracking until at least July 2015.

Friends of the Earth Melbourne (FoE) has been seeking a gas-free Victoria and this announcement is a welcome development. The group said the state government has been listening to community concerns.

Lock the Gate rallies for a gas-free Australia (Photo:FoE)

The Premier, through his online news service, said that his government would not support on-shore gas production until scientific facts are known and clear evidence shown that such an industry would not risk the state’s assets. He said Victoria is taking a careful and measured approach to a potential onshore gas industry that will be informed by independent scientific facts and public consultation.

FoE Campaigner Cam Walker said the ban extension is a good start although he admitted the issue will not go away.  “Pushing the moratorium out to 2015 will take some of the heat out of the community concern over new fossil fuel projects… But it will not make the government’s problems go away. While gas exploration is allowed to continue, and the prospect of new coal allocations exists, the extension simply gives the community more time to get organised against these threats,” Walker said.

FoE maintains that the Napthine government’s capitulation to people power on unconventional gas will not diminish the community’s angst over new coal mining operations.

The next test for the government will be to see whether it drops plans for a further coal allocation.

Walker added that Napthine needs to understand that new coal is every bit as unpopular as new gas operations in regional Victoria.

Lock the Gate co-ordinator Ursula Alquier also said the state government’s extension to the moratorium on fracking will not stop the growing movement against unconventional gas. She suggested that the logical next step is for the government to ban any further exploration for unconventional gas and initiate a state inquiry into whether this industry will be safe for land, people and water.

“A public inquiry under an independent Chair would then provide information that would complement the findings of the 12-month community consultation program that will be carried out by Energy and Resources Minister Nicholas Kotsiras… without this data, we will be flying blind on whether this industry can be safe and compatible with continued agricultural activity in a densely populated state like Victoria,” Alquier said.

Friends of the Earth joined the National Day of Climate Action on Nov 17. (Photo: R. Yoon/Asian Correspondent)

The gas and petroleum sector, meanwhile, is disappointed with the Premier’s announcement.

According to a report from Mining Weekly,  the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea) warned the moratorium would further delay diversifying the development of natural gas resources in Victoria and would result in higher-than-necessary energy prices.

Appea COO for Eastern Australia Paul Fennelly reportedly said, “The message to companies seeking to do business in Victoria – seeking to source natural gas, create jobs, revitalise rural communities, add to government revenue streams and provide additional income to farmers – is unfortunately crystal clear.”

Fenelly added the “Victorian government is paying more attention to short-term politics than science-based evidence and is clearly not displaying enough focus on attracting investment and building the economy, nor the consequences of failing to do so.”

Gas and oil explorer Lakes Oil’s chairman Rob Annells also criticised the moratorium on fracture stimulation, or fracking, claiming it is harming both Victoria’s economy and petroleum extraction industry employment, the Gippsland Times reported.

Annells said projects gas prices would rise significantly, probably doubling in the next three to four years, because Australia’s east coast gas market was about to be opened up to world prices when gas exports out of Gladstone, Queensland, began.

He is pessimistic that the consequent price rise will put pressure on local energy reliant industries, threatening employment.

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