Activist groups have no right to determine “social licence”: SA Government

May 25th, 2017

The South Australian Government this week handed down its formal response to the findings of last year’s SA Parliamentary inquiry into hydraulic fracturing in the State’s South-East.

It was a stinging rebuke for the claimants of “social licence” and a further blow to add to the actual finding of the inquiry, that properly regulated fracking was unlikely to pose any threat to groundwater.

The Government response to the inquiry report was delivered this week by Resources Minister and Treasurer, Tom Koutsantonis.

Resources belonged to the State – to all South Australians — Mr Koutsantonis said.

Protesters and those who engineered “organised dissent” had no right to any claim on ‘social licence’.

In a “consolidated” portfolio response, Mr Koutsantonis said the SA Government had no intention of implementing a ban, moratorium “or any other effective veto on the exploration and extraction of petroleum and mineral resources that would undermine the rights held by the South Australian public”.

His comments were made in response to last year’s recommendations from a Natural Resources Committee inquiry into fracking in SA’s South-East.

One of the recommendations of the NRC report was that unconventional gas projects should only proceed in the South-East “with social licence”.

In rejecting the recommendation, Mr Koutsantonis pointed to a long history of safe, productive oil and gas development in SA’s North and its South-East.

The emergence of opposition in the South-East appeared to be a concern ‘imported’ from outside SA.

“Concerns raised about fracture stimulation, initially in relation to coal seam gas in the Eastern States, appear to have spread to South Australia to undermine the goodwill for the industry that previously existed in the South-East,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

“Organised dissent can often prevent alternative views in a community from becoming public,” he said in a seven-page response to the NRC report.

Mr Koutsantonis also pointed to an anti-gas campaign which was not confined to fracking.

 “Some of the community reaction to recent activity in the South-East involving conventional gas exploration techniques suggests there is more to the campaign to undermine confidence in the existing regulatory approval process and its ability to manage risks than simply opposition to fracture stimulation.”

The forthright Government response was reported in The Advertiser newspaper as “a blow to the anti-fracking campaign” being undertaken in the South-East.

In a direct message to activists about regulation and the science underpinning fracking, Mr Koutsantonis said:

The State Government supports a transparent, consultative and effective regulatory approval process that is consistent with Multiple Land Uses and where the decision-making relies on scientific, professional and appropriate assessment of risk.

“Petroleum exploration has been an important part of the South Australian economy with more than 100 oil and gas exploration wells drilled in the South East in the past 100 years.

“By law, companies are not required to obtain a “social licence” as part of an approvals process as the petroleum rights belong to all of the people and not just affected landowners or the local community.

On history, Mr Koutsnatonis said the community had until quite recently supported natural gas development:

“From 1991 to 2011, production of petroleum from conventional reservoirs was successfully undertaken with community consent and alongside other industries in the Otway Basin. It supplied about 70 billion cubic feet of raw gas to the market.

“Concerns raised about fracture stimulation, initially in relation to coal seam gas in the Eastern states, appear to have spread to South Australia to undermine the  oodwill for the industry that previously existed in the South East.”

 Mr Koutsnatonis went on to highlight the benefits which could flow from development:

 “These recent operations in the South East also demonstrate there are clear benefits for the community that include the pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure that allow households and enterprises in the South East to use gas and benefit from the flow-on effects that a reliable cost-effective energy source brings to a local economy.

“New production can be expected to enhance the existing use of gas in the South East and deliver cheaper gas to consumers due to lower transport tariffs derived from the proximity of supply through existing infrastructure.

Mr Koutsantonis also welcomed the NRC finding that properly regulated fracture stimulation would be unlikely to pose any serious risk to groundwater.

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