Environmental regulator says risks can be managed

October 22nd, 2014

Western Australia’s Environment Protection Authority annual report confirms its previous position that current State shale and tight gas regulation can manage risks associated with onshore gas exploration activities.

This is consistent to similar findings from the NSW Chief Scientist’s recently released final report on her independent review of coal seam gas.

The EPA position is a serious blow to industry opponents.

To date the EPA has received referrals of six proposals which have involved hydraulic fracturing, and in each case the EPA determined that the potential environmental impacts were not so significant as to warrant formal environmental impact assessment.

The report adds that any potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing will be well informed by science. This means that the EPA is confident in its own assessment process.

By promoting a fact-based assessment, founded on science not scaremongering, the EPA’s position highlights the West Australian Government’s willingness to support the ongoing, safe development of the onshore oil and gas industry.

Of the six proposals referred, the EPA said:

  • They were all small scale, proof-of-concept proposals;
  • The hydraulic fracture stimulation would occur depths of between 1,500m to 3,500m, which is well below aquifers. In each case, there is significant vertical separation with impermeable barriers of rock, shale or other layers that do not transmit water between the fracturing zone and fresh water aquifers;
  • It was satisfied with the regulation of well drilling, casing construction, and well rehabilitation and closure by the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP). And it was particularly confident that there is a negligible risk of leakage between aquifers, introduction of contaminants to other aquifers, and from abandonment of wells;
  • The management, storage and disposal of produced water, which contains contaminants associated with fracking fluid, is appropriate to manage risks, given the quantities involved and toxicity of the materials; and
  • Through DMP’s regulation, each proposal is subject to the approval of Environment Plans that are required to demonstrate that environmental risks of the activity will continuously be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable.

This report confirms that a necessary balance between the continued safe development of industry, the protection of the environment can be met with appropriate regulation –  while at the same time providing a level of comfort to the community.

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