Investors warned of Buru Energy’s fracking in West Australia

Buru Energy's operation in Western Australia. (Photo: Supplied)

Buru Energy’s operation in Western Australia. (Photo: Supplied)

Investors for natural resource exploration company Buru Energy’s AUD $30.8m plans to frack for gas in Western Australia’s ecologically sensitive Canning Basin have been warned of the various risks posed by the project. The backers have also been told to expect more protests from local communities should the energy company continue to push for the project, which is due to be implemented upstream from a heritage site in WA’s Kimberley region.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) issued the alert recently, raising the company’s financial viability, along with its engineering integrity in other operations as prime concerns.

Buru Energy has been looking into the feasibility of fracking for gas in the South Kimberley’s Canning Basin since the company demerged from ARC Energy in 2008. The project includes fracking for unconventional tight gas, oil, and condensates. Among its partners are Mitsubishi Corporation, Coogee Chemicals, and Rey Resources.

ACF’s Kimberley Project Officer Wade Freeman said Buru’s plans for hydraulic fracking in the region have the potential to cause serious damage to underground water as well as historical and cultural values for local communities. Buru’s exploration permits cover the beach resort town of Broome’s aquifer, an area of floodplains and lakes that feeds Broome’s only drinking water source, Freeman added.

The ACF has also raised concern that Buru’s fracking plans present a genuine threat to the health of the Fitzroy River and Roebuck Bay. Instead of investing in risky fossil fuel industries for the short term, the conservation group said there are other sustainable options based on The Kimberley’s unique cultural and environmental values.

Protestors hang the banner to stop Buru Energy from fracking. (Photo: Supplied)

Protestors hang the banner to stop Buru Energy from fracking. (Photo: Supplied)

Opposition towards the project is expected to rise from the local community level on to regional, national, and international spheres. In the state alone, this will likely be a major environmental issue in the lead up to the 2017 West Australian elections. Recent polling suggests the 2017 WA election is set to be a close race. The Western Australian Labor Party has advanced two policies that will potentially end hydraulic fracturing in the state.

National awareness programs are being organised to highlight potential impact of shale gas development on national heritage-listed assets in the region. The states of Victoria and Tasmania have already placed moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing. The Australian Labor Party has recently committed to add shale gas fracking to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) Act’s Water Trigger.

Signs not to frack Aboriginal land. (Photo:Supplied)

Signs not to frack Aboriginal land. (Photo:Supplied)

The ACF said the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December last year has shifted global approach towards the issue of energy. In the US, several states have already banned fracking, including Maryland, New York, California, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Washington, Hawaii, and Ohio. Many countries have followed suit, including Germany, Scotland, Wales, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Romania, Netherlands, Spain and Bulgaria. This development is expected to set the momentum of a new era.

Western Australian farmers and community groups have formed an alliance with farmers from Wyoming in the US, warning other communities by publishing their experiences with the detrimental impacts of shale gas fracking.

ACF’s Economist Matthew Rose sent the alert to investment firms, fund managers and individual shareholders. Considering the post-Paris agreement on climate policy, this project raises concern about the increased risks in the region, affecting traditional owners and national heritage-listed values in The Kimberley.

“There are serious risks associated with this project – for the environment and for investors,” Rose said.

Buru Energy’s Quarterly Report published on June 30 shows the company’s estimated cash inflows for the next quarter at $9.5 million for the sale of a pastoral lease asset, and $5.8 million from government tax concessions.

“What is the future of an oil and gas company that relies on selling beef and drawing big tax concessions from the public purse in order to remain viable?” Mr Rose asked.

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Post-Easter

Australia has gone through a long weekend over Easter period and business has just resumed today.

Nonetheless, the past days had not been completely quiet. Issues on the rights of asylum seekers rage on while civic activism continues.

In NSW, residents fear about gas fracking and contamination while in Queensland, conservation groups rally against massive industrialization along the Great Barrier Reef. Tasmania Wilderness remains under threat as the Tony Abbott Government changed its mind about protecting the world heritage forested areas. There is a ray of hope in Western Australia as a result of the recently held election. However, the fight to protect the rights of sharks from culling is expected to go on.

Whales in the Southern Ocean, meanwhile, can enjoy a peaceful and safe interlude while the Japanese harpoons had lost their case in the international court. They are back home pondering what to do next and it is possible they will come back to pursue their “scientific research”.

I will resume my writing soon.

Santos to pay the price for contaminating Pilliga forest

The New South Wales Land and Environment Court is prosecuting for the first time an oil and gas company for spilling a toxic gas waste into the forest killing acres of trees.

The Sydney court is expected to announce its verdict on Santos Ltd. after the New Year. Santos is prosecuted this week for 10,000 liters of coal seam gas spill in the great inland of the Pilliga Forest, northwest of Sydney, in June 2011 without reporting it as required by law. Santos is the first-ever to be prosecuted under 1991 forest law.

Santos-rally

Community groups form a blockage to denounce Santos and the risks associated with fracking (Photo: Supplied)

On Wednesday, the company pleaded guilty on the spill and three counts of failing to file accurate environmental reports. Each charge carries a maximum fine of AU$110,000. Santos is also ordered to pay an additional AU$110,000 for the costs of the investigation and prosecution. The court’s prosecutor, Stephen Rushton, said the penalty serves as deterrence for others to follow.

Santos, acquired Eastern Star Gas July 2011 for AU$626 million. ESG ran a water treatment plant in the Pilliga forest. The polluted water spilled into the forest in June 2011, killing 77 percent of the trees in a 1.75 hectare area, the prosecution said.

The Wilderness Society claims that the senior management of Santos at the time knew about the June 2011 spill, but tried to cover it up. The Society said the court proceedings would then be a test for NSW Government regulation of the coal seam gas industry.

Wilderness Society Newcastle Campaign Manager Naomi Hogan said Santos deserves the maximum penalty for the cover up and that any penalty should be a serious deterrent to other companies.

The Society notes that communities across NSW are watching the ruling closely, as this court case exposes the reality of the water pollution and environmental damage associated with coal seam gas fracking operations.

The damage considered in this case was just from a handful of wells, yet now residents of north-west NSW are facing Santos’ plans for 850 production wells across the Pilliga and Narrabri region, the Society adds.

Local farmers had to report the toxic spill to the media before Santos took action, according to the Society, and this is ”a scary prospect to think that community members will have to continue to monitor coal seam gas pollution if gas fields expand across the north west as planned by Santos and the NSW Government.”

pilliga forest

Community leaders inspect the affected area of the Pilliga Forest (Photo: Supplied)

The Pilliga is considered the last great inland forest, home to many threatened species including the koala and Pilliga mouse. It’s part of the Murray Darling basin, Australia’s largest food bowl, and a major recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin, an essential source of water for Outback Australia.

About 40 community members blockaded Santos’ Pilliga forest operations on Tuesday and another 25 protests outside the court on Wednesday. Dozens more protested outside Santos offices in Gunnedah and Narrabri.

Santos has always insisted people needs education when it comes to understanding the processes and benefits of fracking.

Drawing from its rich history for 40 years, Santos has been fracking for natural gas from sandstone in the Cooper Basin in outback South Australia. The gas is piped thousands of kilometres to Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney.

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.