Shale and tight gas development is only a “low” risk to water sources in Victoria’s Otways and Gippsland regions, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into unconventional gas has been told.
Reports submitted to the inquiry by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are in stark contrast to dramatic statements made by countless environmental groups, which have tried to whip up a fear campaign about the supposedly “unacceptably high” risks.
The DELWP reports assess all of the areas of focus identified by anti-development activists as well as by farmers with a much more direct standpoint for concern: impact on water users, on groundwater and surface water quality, on potential ground subsidence, chemical contamination and seismicity.
All are assessed as ‘low risk’.
The findings are in step with the “low risk” findings of the office of the NSW Chief Scientist, which assessed industry operations in Australia and overseas as part of a thorough 18-month investigation.
They are also in step with the conclusions of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States
The Victorian Environment Department reports were completed in June and published without drawing any commentary by the hundreds of activists who regularly republicise hearsay claims and who did so in many form letter submissions to the Victorian inquiry.
It is reassuring that the Parliamentary committee conducting the inquiry has stated the need to properly consider the Environment Department findings as it progresses to its final report, anticipated in December.
In an interim report published this week, the Committee has stated it needs to get a better understanding of the science underpinning unconventional gas extraction, which has been conducted in North America since 1947 and in Australia since 1968. It has been granted authority to seek out scientific expertise to assist it.
Another encouraging aspect of the Committee’s interim report is its acknowledgement its deliberations would benefit from more “information from operating gas projects in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and elsewhere”.
The Committee says it will study the reviews that suggest that risks posed by unconventional gas industries can be effectively managed “if sufficiently robust regulatory frameworks are in place, and if industry compliance is monitored and enforced”.
The interim report suggests the Committee is aware that community engagement is likely to be a critical element of any model to rekindle onshore gas development in Victoria.
It has said it will “reflect on the engagement to date between the unconventional gas industry, the Government and the communities in regions where unconventional gas may prospectively be located, and consider how this engagement may be improved”.
A good first step would be to ignore the increasingly hyperbolic campaigns mounted by anti-industry activist groups.