Locals from the WA town of Gingin, and visitors from Perth including members of the groups No Fracking WAy and Doctors for the Environment, left a June 22 community forum on unconventional gas fracking scratching their heads in bewilderment.
The forum, facilitated by National Party MPs, included speakers from the Department of Mines and Petroleum, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Nationals member Philip Gardiner, a representative from Empire Oil & Gas and Peter Stone from the CSIRO.
The panel would have had a more balanced discussion if Doctors for the Environment were allowed its 15 minute presentation, as was originally intended.
Most listeners were given a chance to voice their concerns in a question and answer session following the presentations. This included a local farmer who asked why groups such as No Fracking WAy were not also invited to make a presentation to the community.
Perhaps next time the Nationals will take the real concerns of the community into consideration, which cannot simply be washed over with the usual industry spin.
It remains unclear who exactly is monitoring water quality in WA’s aquifers where fracking is taking place. The mining companies themselves are responsible for these assessments, with the involvement of a third party, seemingly of their choice.
The Department of Water visits sites only a couple of times a year; hardly reassuring to local farmers who have grave concerns for their land and accessibility to clean, uncontaminated water sources.
The lack of clear, long term plans for our groundwater is a cause of great trepidation particularly given that the Department of Mines and Petroleum cannot guarantee the integrity of gas well casings during production or after the well is abandoned.
The CSIRO’s Peter Stone said fracking in WA is a case of “regulations playing catch-up with industry”.
Considering that three fracking projects are starting in the region next month, I would have liked to have reported back with a more positive response. But without strong regulations on the industry in place, overseen by an independent regulatory body, it is left to the efforts of the many concerned locals alongside activist groups to try to keep this industry in line.
The more community support the better. Join your local anti-fracking group and tell the frackers where to go.
[Clare McKinnon is a member of No Fracking Way, which campaigns against unconventional gas fracking in Western Australia.]