The Government’s Supporting Reasons for Fracking Don’t Stand Up

Last month I posted a story about the Western Australian government decision to lift the state moratorium on fracking.

You can find this story and a response to my letter to the Premier of the state here.

It took me a while to get back to the issue after the distractions of Christmas, the new year and a rather intense series of events politically, some of which I have found the time to analyse.

But after finally re-reading the response from the premier, I found that the reasons given to support fracking in the state don’t stand up to scrutiny.

My full response to the Premier is below, but my main points include:

  1. ‘Only’ fracking 2% of WA is the equivalent of fracking an area approximately 78% the size of Tasmania.
  2. Opening any part of the state brings the possibility of more of the state being opened.
  3. Even companies that engage in fracking acknowledge that some percentage modern wells leak over time inevitably. (5% of wells initially, 50% after 15 years and 60% after 30 years).
  4. In all the states that fracking has been trialled, leaks and contamination has occurred. In 2012, 44% of existing Australian wells were leaking.
  5. The independent EPA inquiry took a deliberately narrow scope. This included ignoring the combustion of exported gas (80% of emissions), assuming that all gas from the extraction would be supplying a local market.
  6. Farmers land is being bought up from under them, circumventing negotiations. This forces the environmental and noise effects of the well onto the surrounding community with no interference.
  7. The 2 kilometers from towns, aquifers etc. stipulation is not foolproof. The leaks from these types of well are not under the control of the companies that cause them. The gases/water/chemicals are pumped at extreme pressure and can travel great distances to find a way of escape. This can cause the poisoning of land and ground water far away.
  8. The decision to extract further fossil fuels from the earth is costly to our commitments to the Paris Agreement, the latest IPCC report recommendations and the liveable future of our nation.

I will post a response to my letter when it is received.

To whom it concerns at the offices of the Premier

I find your response to be inadequate and even misleading in many ways, which I will address below.

Your first point is that 98% of the state will remain under a fracking prohibition, leaving 2% that is covered under existing petroleum licenses and can be opened to fracking.

According to Geoscience Australia the land area of Western Australia is 2,526,786 square kilometers. This would, by simple calculation, mean that we could be opening approximately 50,535 square kilometers to fracking. With Tasmania’s land area covering only 64,519 square kilometers, this means that you are agreeing to frack an area approximately 78% the size of Tasmania. This is not a small area, and it appears that your 2% figure is an attempt to characterize it that way.

Aside from this, the opening of any part of the state to fracking brings the possibility that the area may be widened. There currently exists no statute to prevent this.

Your second point is that the industry will have low risk of environmental damage through “world class protections and regulations”. I don’t believe that this is possible.

In a report Schlumberger, a company that engages in fracking, noted that 5% of modern wells leak immediately, 50 percent leak after 15 years, and 60 percent leak after 30 years. In 2012 it was found that approximately 44% of existing gas wells in Australia were leaking.

There have been many examples of fracking poisoning Australian drinking water wherever it has been implemented. In 2010, Origin Energy discovered toxic leaks at sites in Queensland. In NSW an aquifer was poisoned with uranium permanently by Santos in 2014.

The Senate Rural Affairs committee in 2011 stated that fracking in NSW and QLD is “as sure as night turns to day” to destroy our agriculture industry, due to the inevitable effects on water supplies both above and below ground. It also noted the ill health effects to humans due to contact with the wide variety of poisonous chemicals used in the extraction of gas.

The inquiry by the Environmental Protection Agency into Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation does not include an analysis of the destination of the gas that would be combusted on the export market, leaving approximately 80% (according to The Guardian) of the carbon emissions unaccounted for in their and your decision. The inquiry was undertaken on a narrow basis that deliberately ignored this market, instead assuming only a small scale operation would be undertaken for the supply for a local market. This is completely reckless considering the recommendations by the IPCC for drastic change to all of our ways of life to ensure no more than a 1.5C rise in global temperatures.

Your third point is in relation to the approvals needed to be sought from farmers and traditional owners.

This appears to be an excellent protection, however there nothing to prevent large mining companies from buying out farmers, avoiding negotiations and forcing the surrounding community to deal with the pollution and associated issues. It also appears that indigenous groups may be enticed by offers of employment for locals, however it seems that this would be limited to only a select few in the community as most ongoing jobs generated by fracking are located in cities and not rural areas.

Your fourth point is in relation to a $9 million one-off donation to a clean energy fund.

This is a good start in the transition to a greener energy grid for Western Australia, however is little compared to the amounts invested in coal and gas fired power generation for the state.

It has been indicated conclusively that not only is renewable energy cheaper to construct and maintain, it also creates more jobs and generates economic growth. It would therefore make more sense to discontinue fossil fuel usage as a means of power generation in WA entirely. Some links are here and were also provided in my last letter:

Your final point is in relation to the 44 recommendations of the inquiry headed by Tom Hatton, all of which would be accepted.

Primarily you refer to the 2 kilometer distance that must be kept. This distance is negligible when considering the pressure under which the extraction and leaks are to occur. Under malfunction, the leaks are not able to be reliably controlled, resulting in the pollution of far-off areas as the gas seeks a way to be released. It has also been noted that the mere exploration of these gas seams can negatively impact the surrounding environment.

Some of the proposed mining area includes areas over the Yarragadee aquifer, where Perth gets its drinking water. Near our fruit and vegetable farmers in Carnarvon. In the Kimberly, where traditional owners are fighting mining operations.

I would also stress that due to the deliberately narrow view of the independent inquiry that at least some of the environmental recommendations are compromised or even totally redundant. A new inquiry should be instated with a wider range of representatives from fracking interest groups, engineers and environmental scientists present.

Finally, I would address the fallacies claimed by the premier that fracking will create jobs and drive down gas prices in WA. According to The Australia Institute Research, the opening of fracking in QLD has destroyed 1.8 jobs in agriculture for every job it has created.

In QLD and NSW the gas prices have continued to climb, driven partly by the opening of fracking. This is thought to be because fracking is more expensive to undertake than conventional gas extraction. The competition causes a rise in conventional gas prices, rather than a fall in the unconventional gas.

As I stressed in my first letter, it is of the utmost importance to humanity and Australia that any and all fossil fuels be kept sequestered in their natural state as far as legally possible. This is important in holding to Australia’s commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement, the latest IPCC recommendation of 1.5C warming and in maintaining a livable future for our children.

I hope you may reassure me in my concerns.

I look forward to your response.


Nathan Booth
Democratise Australia

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