Australian oil and gas company AWE has signalled its intention to mine for unconventional gas on farmland bordering Western Australia’s Lesueur National Park. The proposal, released in October, includes plans to use the damaging process known as “fracking” to extract gas, starting in March next year.
The national park is a environmentally significant area. It holds more than 900 different plant species and more than 10% of the total known flora of WA. It also holds seven species of declared rare fauna, and nine taxa found nowhere else in the world.
It is a major destination for wildflower tourists and is important for its reptile biodiversity.
The proposed fracking site is close to the Beagle Fault, which could provide a pathway for chemicals to spread into the aquifer. The roads, trucks and drilling rigs that the fracking industry brings are also likely to spread dieback (highly invasive soil-borne mould that causes root rot) into the Lesueur National Park. It is also quite farcical that AWE intends to frack as soon as March, given that a parliamentary inquiry into fracking in WA has not yet been completed.
There are concerns that if fracking is allowed on the border of the national park, a precedent would be set that would result in fracking throughout the mid-west of WA. The Conservation Council of Western Australia estimates there could be 130,000 gas wells across WA, permanently changing the landscape.
The northern Perth Basin, between Perth and Geraldton, is estimated to hold 1.2 trillion cubic metres of unconventional gas. Almost all of this area is covered in exploration leases and two production licences have already been granted.
If gas production in the mid-west goes ahead, it could threaten the Yarragadee aquifer, which mid-west farmers depend on for their livelihood. The Yarragadee is also an important groundwater resource for Perth.
The threat to the water is also a threat to Yamatji Aboriginal cultural heritage, given that there are many sacred water sites throughout the mid-west.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) received 242 public comments on the proposal, nearly all of which were opposed to it. Despite the public opposition, the EPA decided not to assess the impact of fracking, as it is “unlikely to have a significant impact on the environment”.
The Conservation Council of Western Australia and No Fracking WAy have indicated they will appeal this decision.
The strong campaign against coal seam gas mining around the country has brought widespread attention to the risks of gas mining. Unlike other states, WA mostly has reserves of shale and tight gas, rather than coal seam gas.
The gas industry uses this to downplay the risks and says the depth of shale deposits means fracking for shale and tight gas is safer than mining coal seam gas. But the use of fracking — which involves the high-pressure injection of large volumes of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals into the ground to release the gas — can contaminate groundwater aquifers at that depth.
As the gas industry prepares to frack areas across WA — including the Kimberley, Pilbara, Gascoyne and south-west regions — the community is preparing to stop them. The anti-fracking movement is strong in Geraldton, and it is also active in Perth, Fremantle, Jurien Bay, Carnarvon, Eneabba, Exmouth and Busselton.
Community activity has already prompted the government to start an inquiry into the industry.
Public pressure has successfully defended the Lesueur National Park before. Plans for coal mining in the area were defeated by community resistance, which led to it being gazetted as a national park in 1992.
More recent community victories over the James Price Point gas hub and the Vasse Coal mine planned for Margaret River also demonstrate that it is possible to defeat mining and petroleum projects that threaten our environment, health and livelihoods.
[No Fracking WAy will hold a protest and concert on Cottesloe Beach on February 22. For more information, visit No Fracking Way Perth on Facebook.]