WA Labor challenged on fracking policy

September 1, 2017
Outside the WA Labor conference on August 26. Credit: Frack Free WA

More than 250 people gathered on August 26 for the Frack Free People's Rally organised by Lock the Gate Alliance and Frack Free WA outside the Western Australia State Labor Conference.

They were there to ensure WA Labor know people want the state to be free of unconventional gas and to demand it implement fracking bans and veto rights through legislation and announce the inquiry promised during the election.

After Labor won the March state election, activists became concerned when the government said its policy was a ban on hydraulic fracture stimulation and not a ban on exploration for future WA gas supplies. They feared this meant a fracking ban would still allow activities associated with unconventional gas, including exploration, seismic testing, horizontal drilling and waste ponds.

In June, the government said it would introduce a strategic five-year release of petroleum exploration areas across the Canning and Perth Basins, which minimised environmental, cultural and land use constraints.

At the time, mines and petroleum minister Bill Johnston said: “A moratorium on fracking may limit prospectors’ interest in bidding, however the release doesn’t conflict with the government’s policy, pending the findings of a scientific inquiry. There may be potential for gas development without the need for fracking.”

The recently released Australian Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Science Survey found seven out of 10 people were opposed to fracking. Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said the results do not come as a surprise.

“The science has consistently shown that there is no safe way to frack — therefore we would expect that the majority of Australians would oppose unconventional gas and fracking.

“Here in Western Australia, people are aware of the science and understand the risks that fracking poses to their health and safety, and they’re determined to keep the industry out of the state.

“WA hydrogeologist Dr Ryan Vogwill’s report, Western Australia’s Tight Gas Industry: A review of groundwater and environmental risks, highlights the threat posed to WA’s groundwater supplies by unconventional gas and fracking.’’

For those protesting outside the conference, the only way the bans in the South West, Peel and metropolitan area could be permanent and meaningful is if they are legislated. But they were to be disappointed. There was no push for legislation and little change to policy.

Delegates at the conference supported a policy reiterating the WA Labor election commitments on gas fracking, including a permanent ban on gas fracking in Perth, Peel, Swan Valley and the South West. The policy also confirmed that WA Labor would consider further fracking bans in sensitive areas following the outcome of the inquiry that is yet to be announced.

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