Are fracking and seabed drilling critics fair dinkum?

October 23rd, 2015

Activists often talk of hydraulic fracturing as if it’s some new hi-tech threat, when in fact it is an engineering process which has been safely used millions of times around the world for decades.

But in a discussion about oil or natural gas, an interesting thing often happens when fracking or drilling techniques are taken off the table – rather than let it go, activists quickly reframe the argument and drop down to the base position of simply being opposed to fossil fuels. Full stop.

If that is their true position, it might save a lot of angst if they were simply fair dinkum and say so at the outset.

We’ve seen recent examples of this in Western Australia in relation to possible onshore development and in South Australia regarding offshore resources.

In South Australia, the Wilderness Society is trying to mount a case against possible development of resources in the seabed off the SA coast, notwithstanding seabed development in offshore Victoria has been a boon for the State and the nation for 60 years and there have been no environmental consequences.

The Wilderness Society submission to regulatory authorities talks of the threat to environment and animal life, in emotive terms, but without supporting evidence. The technical process is mentioned, but the baseline position is quickly revealed:

“The loud and disruptive underwater blasts of seismic exploration and drilling into the sea floor will be devastating,” the Wilderness Society says, predicting ‘animal strike and pollution’, again without evidence.

Then follows the punchline: “All this, just so big petroleum companies can make a profit while digging up more fossil fuels – and creating even worse climate change.”

The message is simple: if an argument about environmental science lacks cut-through, then the argument changes – all fossil fuels are bad and are creating “even worse climate change”.

And don’t forget – the proponents are big companies, and they make profits; whatever that is supposed to imply about their operational standards.

In the WA case, activists cheered loudly when the Resources Minister, Bill Marmion, assured them that mooted developments in the State’s south were not going to use hydraulic fracturing.

When Government officers later clarified the position, stating that HF would not be necessary in the relevant geology, activists quickly changed their anti-fracking tack, saying they were opposed to development of any kind.

No Fracking in Southwest WA campaign group spokeswoman Carly Stone initially tried to paint the situation as a ‘win’ for her group, but when the reality was explained, quickly shifted from a focus on fracking to declare blanket opposition to fossil fuels.

“The development of fossil fuels is not supported here by anybody,” she declared with conviction.

The key to the activist misunderstanding about the non-intended use of fracking was that the company in question actually used the word ‘Unconventional’ in its name, so activists assumed it proposed to use HF to develop so-called ‘unconventional’ natural gas resources.

They were wrong, but rather than back away from the argument, they simply changed ground.

To avoid misunderstanding, the company involved has since changed its name.

Perhaps No Fracking in Southwest WA ought to consider a renaming as well: ‘No fossil fuels in WA — or anywhere.’ might be more appropriate.

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