Victorian gas ban illogical; farmers can benefit

February 10th, 2017

This is a copy of a letter submitted to the Australian Financial Review by ERIC Director Steve Wright (published 10 Feb)

Federal Ministers Barnaby Joyce and Josh Frydenberg are on firm ground when they say that agriculture and natural gas can co-exist — because they already do.

Cattle graze around existing gas operations in South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales and in Queensland, where 5000 landholders have profitably struck deals with gas companies which pay them rent, and in many cases, have delivered to them better access roads and fences.  Some even get the benefit of a drought-fighting supply of water that was never previously available to them.

Even in the apparently fearful State of Victoria, natural gas and agriculture co-exist.  In fact natural gas has a history which goes back 100 years in Victoria and Queensland.

That is why the Victorian ban on natural gas development makes no sense at all.  There are existing safe operations in western Victoria and offshore in Bass Strait, quite close to the Gippsland and Otway coasts.

There is a long history of safe operation without damage to precious farming water.  There is NO history of the environmental carnage activists claim is unavoidable.

As noted in the AFR (‘Cooking with hot air’ Feb. 9, p. 28), this has all been thoroughly documented by the NSW Chief Scientist, who did a thorough 18-month study.  Victoria’s own Environment Department looked into natural gas a year ago and came to the conclusion that onshore development could occur in Gippsland and Otway basins at only “low” risk to soil and water.

Overseas experience is relevant – and often (mis)quoted by activists.

Late last year I visited Dimock Pennsylvania, what activists insensitively call the ‘ground zero’  of the USA shale boom, that has supposedly poisoned water and laid waste to thousands of hectares of prime land.  The claims are rubbish.  There is no evidence of environmental damage.  The Hollywood protestors are long gone and there is now barely a protest sign to be found.  A community which had been divided by activists has now recognised that a decade later the predicted Armageddon has simply not arrived.  It is business as usual for local farmers and other  landholders (including a school),  who host gas wells without interruption to their regular activities.

Steve Wright

Director, Energy Resource Information Centre

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