About 70 people attended a community forum in Adelaide on March 27 to learn more about plans for unconventional gas extraction in South Australia.
The forum was organised in response to the South Australian government’s “Roadmap for Unconventional Gas Projects in SA” which outlines the government and industry vision to allow exploration and extraction of shale gas, coal seam gas and tight gas in 35% of the state, including the use of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. Tenements exist cover desert areas as well as populated regional areas, including a tenement that reaches Adelaide's northern suburbs.
The forum heard from several speakers. Sarah Moles, from the Lock the Gate Alliance, outlined the history of opposition to unconventional gas mining in Australia, and described the Lock the Gate campaign as the fastest growing social movement in Australia.
She spoke about the importance of organising communities in South Australia before the industry becomes well-established and expands as it has done in Queensland. She also gave some recent examples of campaign successes in Qld and NSW.
Ann Daw, an independent advocate for agriculture and the environment, spoke about the regional areas targeted for unconventional gas projects, including the South-east where fracking would threaten prime agricultural land and impact aquifer levels. She said South Australia is the only state in Australia that does not have a state policy framework to protect agricultural land.
Andrew Cooper, an independent researcher and a local member of Lock the Gate, took the audience through the technical aspects of fracking and its potential health impacts, particularly for children, which include ear bleeds, nose bleeds and headaches. He also highlighted the issue of methane leakage from unconventional gas operations.
Mark Ogge, from the Australia Institute, discussed the myths and realities of the mining boom. He pointed out that the drive to extract unconventional gas is not related to local demand but to the lure of overseas markets with most of the profits going to offshore shareholders.
He said the expansion of the gas and coal industries has driven up the Australian dollar, impacting negatively on industries such as manufacturing, tourism and education. This trend will continue, reducing the diversity of the Australian economy.
Tackling the argument that we need to develop the gas industry for the sake of jobs, Ogge said the mining industry only directly employs 2% of the Australian workforce, and many of the jobs are fly in, fly out arrangements, with very little benefit for local economies.
Other speakers included seismologist Edward Cranswick, who examined the evidence linking unconventional gas mining with earthquakes; Mark Parnell MLC from the Greens who discussed the one-sided media spin that has accompanied the release of the government's gas “roadmap”; and Gemma Weedall from the Climate Emergency Action Network, who advocated for an alternative “Renewable Energy Roadmap” for South Australia which would include replacing Port Augusta’s brown coal-fired power stations with solar thermal technology.
The forum was organised by CLEAN, the Lock the Gate Alliance and independent activists, and will hopefully be the first step in forming an Adelaide anti-gas group to support the community engagement process in regional areas.