Frack Free Tasmania held a public meeting on February 18 at Sustainable Living Tasmania to warn about possible exploration for shale oil and gas in the island state. The current moratorium on fracking in Tasmania is due to end on March 31.
The government put out an issues paper which received 157 submissions, 90% of which were opposed to fracking being allowed in the state. The government responded to the review on February 26 by extending the moratorium until 2020.
Many organisations, including Forestry Tasmania, Wine Tasmania, Dairy Tas, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and the state government’s own Department of Health and Human Services, expressed opposition to lifting the moratorium. They cited concerns over public health, environmental degradation, water quality and damage to Tasmania’s clean reputation.
There are currently three companies who hold licenses to explore for petroleum products in Tasmania. One of them, Petragas, has declared they are specifically looking for unconventional gas in a large area of the midlands, which includes a significant part of Hobart’s water catchment area.
Frack Free Tasmania is a new campaign group, formed less than four months ago. Affiliated with Lock the Gate, it is pushing for a permanent ban on coal seam gas in Tasmania.
Rohan Church from Doctors for the Environment told the 35 people at the meeting that his organisation was very concerned about the lack of evidence that the chemicals used in fracking, and the natural pollutants (such as heavy metals like benzenes) that are liberated by the process, are safe. He said many of these elements are known to be toxic at low concentrations so more research needs to be done before fracking projects are allowed to go ahead.
He pointed to some Australian studies which found that people living close to gas wells reported an increased incidence of illnesses, particularly skin and respiratory conditions, and a study in Philadelphia, USA, found an association between proximity to fracking wells and higher rates of congenital heart disease.
Aleah Poncini, a Director of the Didel Institute for Scientific Research and Development, spoke of her deep concerns about radiation and other contamination that fracking would have on Tasmania’s water and agricultural industries.
Sarah Wilson from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) explained the legal framework for mining and exploration in Tasmania. The EDO has recently published a free community guide to mining law to help rural landowners and concerned members of the public understand their rights. Wilson said that, although compensation may be payable, under state laws landowners do not have the legal right to refuse permission for exploration activities to occur on their land and penalties apply for obstructing them.
She said all CSG projects (but unfortunately not shale gas projects) need approval by the Federal Environment Minister due to the water trigger now contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.