New Aussie Pub Trivia question: When is a 60-year history of safe, productive operation and a dozen expert inquiries enough?
That seems to be the opinion of State and Territory Governments who continue to commission inquiries into the thoroughly understood well-stimulation process of hydraulic fracturing – tagged “fracking” by activists so that they can tell companies to “frack off”.
Despite comprehensive multiple studies in four States, Victoria, the Northern Territory and now Western Australia (again) are embarking on new inquiries.
This brings the total number of inquiries to a staggering 14.
Surely, no industry conduct issue has ever previously been subjected to such intense scrutiny. It is all the more notable when it is understood that nothing bad has actually happened. In 60 years of operation, fracking has not caused a single serious, sustained environmental impact.
Fracking has been safely conducted in North America since the 1940s and in Australia since the 1960s. But because of activist dogma, misleading movies and ill-informed celebrities, public perceptions continue to be challenged.
Governments have reacted by trying to kick the can down the road; calling inquiries. NSW tops the billing with three completed. Victoria is now on onto its third, the NT its second and WA its second.
Little more than a week after declaring his strong support for the oil and gas industry in WA, and acknowledging it was “good for WA”, the newly elected Premier, Mark McGowan, is set to preside over the 14th State/Territory inquiry into fracking.
McGowan’s Minister in charge of resources, Bill Johnston, told an oil and gas industry gathering in Perth this week that he appreciated the importance of the industry, but warned that to succeed it needed a “proper social licence”.
“We won’t allow fracking to take place in WA until we’ve conducted a broad-ranging inquiry,” he said.
An exhaustive bi-partisan two-year inquiry was conducted by the previous Government. It concluded that fracking posed negligible risk.
The declaration of the 14th inquiry means Australia is now running at a rate of almost four inquiries per year for the past four years.
And just what is this latest inquiry expected to turn up? If it is anything other than what the other dozen have found, one can only guess it is actively looking for a different outcome, or listening with a less scientific ear.
Not one of the inquiries has found that fracking is unsafe or recommended its banning. That of course did not stop the Victorian Government from bowing to enviro-activist influence on its party base and introducing a ban earlier this year.
As we have reported a number of times, the Victorian ban not only defies logic, it flies in the face of the best expert advice available to the Government – provided by its own Environment Department.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon recently described the Victorian position on gas as “absurd”. Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan labelled it “stupid” and “ridiculous”.
So why is this happening? Why do we go continue to go through the charade of inquiry after inquiry when the conclusions always point to a low-level risk which the industry has proven it has the expertise and experience to manage over five decades.
The explanation is politics – Green politics. The Prime Minister recently explained the “obstructive policies” this way:
“We are facing an energy crisis in Australia, because of this restriction on gas,’’ Mr Turnbull said.
“Many of those restrictions are in place because of anti-energy activists and their scare campaigns against fracking and energy extraction in general.”
Activist scare mongering. It is now an industry – spawned in the United States and carried on the winds of renewable energy investment to Europe, Australia and elsewhere.
South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has also weighed into the debate, having previously lambasted his Labor colleagues across the border.
“South Australia is open for business,” he said. “If Victorian gas companies want to come over to SA, they will be welcome,” he said.
This week, he took to the notion that community and lobby groups had a right to stop development.
“Resources belong to all South Australians,” Mr Koutsantonis said.
“The State Government does not support a ban, moratorium, social licence or any other effective veto on the exploration and extraction of petroleum and mineral resources,” he said.
“Organised dissent” often drowned out the more rational scientific views in the fracking debate, he said.
Mr Koutsantonis was responding to the findings of last year’s SA inquiry into fracking in the State’s South-East. More on the Government response is available here.