Community opposition may soon put fracking on hold in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. This could culminate in the first big victory for the anti-fracking movement in Western Australia.
Buru Energy, partnered with Mitsubishi, intends to frack four wells east of Broome 34 times this year, starting in May. This is the largest single fracking proposal to be put forward in Western Australia so far. The area is a wetland used by Aboriginal owners.
Buru say they want to frack 100 to 150 wells if granted approval. But a backlash against the Environmental Protection Authority's (EPA) decision not to assess the environmental impact of Buru's plans may put them on hold.
The EPA had decided that it didn't need to assess Buru's proposal for the Kimberley, agreeing with the company that the “environmental footprint of a project like this is very minimal”.
Eighty organisations and individuals across WA lodged appeals against the EPA decision, in a huge new state-wide alliance. In their appeals, the groups said the EPA at least needs to assess Buru’s proposal before giving it the green light.
The Department of Mines and Petroleum has the job of regulating the industry instead of the EPA. Martin Pritchard of Environs Kimberley said this meant the supposedly independent EPA was “abrogating its responsibilities” to the pro-fracking department.
As well as the response to the appeal process, anti-fracking activity in WA has included public forums, rallies, petitions, letters to the editor, and engagement with social media.
Opposition to fracking in the Kimberley itself is also substantial. Weekly meetings have been held to build a protest movement.
Opposition is also coming from the Aboriginal owners of the wetland. Susan Edgar, a director of the Yawuru Native Title Holders Aboriginal Corporation, told ABC's 7.30: “They will never convince us or give us or make us understand that there will be no damage to the country ... This is our country and we're going to fight for it 100%."
However, there is a potential conflict of interest brewing which could divide the Aboriginal community. Neil McKenzie, chairperson of the Yawuru Corporation, also works for Buru Energy.
The likely delay of fracking in the Kimberley follows the defeat of the James Price Point gas hub last year. This set a significant precedent in WA politics which no doubt colours the current campaign.
If the fracking industry wants to proceed in the Kimberley, it risks reinvigorating the mass community sentiment and activity that the “Save the Kimberley” campaign inspired last year.