The Country Women’s Association has performed a valuable role in rural Australia for decades.
It’s not just a social network of scone bakers, but an important advocate for women who chose to live in the country.
But it’s not a scientific organisation either, so its decision this week in Western Australia to vote for a ban on hydraulic fracture stimulation in that state on environmental grounds needs some scrutiny.
There are a raft of highly credentialed committees and people who have investigated the safety of hydraulic hydraulic fracturing. They include the NSW Chief Scientist, a bipartisan WA Parliament Legislative Council Committee and the South Australian Treasurer.
This comment from the South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis provides a good summary: “The (SA) 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.
“Organised dissent” often drowned out the more rational scientific views in the fracking debate, he said.
Of course there’s also the impact on the economy. Only a week ago National small business administrator and advocate Kate Carnell called on State and Territory governments to end their blockers to development of natural gas, predicting “dire consequences” if energy policies are not changed quickly.
“If we don’t fix the policy settings there will be small business closures and job losses, it’s that simple,” the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman said.
“It’s a terrible shame that one of the most energy-abundant nations in the world has reached this point.”
“Bans and moratoria on gas production are part of the problem and should be lifted.”
The CWA has a right to a view, but it needs to be informed and considered.
In 2015, following more than two and a half years of investigation, the WA Parliament Environment and Public Affairs Committee released a report which broadly supports the existing regulatory framework in place for the onshore oil and gas industry in Western Australia and effectively endorsed the continued use of hydraulic fracturing.
The report, ‘Implications for Western Australia of Hydraulic Fracturing for Unconventional Gas’, contained 51 findings and 12 recommendations and while it notes some areas where legislative changes could be made, principally the report outlined the robust regulatory environment which exists in WA.
Of particular note, the report found that the risks associated with aquifer contamination and seismicity are negligible.
In a statement, the Committee states that:
“[It] has found that there is significant concern amongst the community about the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing but at the same time, there is a level of misinformation present in the public domain that can cause confusion and mistrust.”
Importantly, there was no support for a moratorium from the committee and ultimately the report’s recommendations accept that hydraulic fracturing can be conducted safely provided appropriate regulations are in place and minimum standards are implemented.