(by Boshra Yazahmeidi)
It is something of a historic moment when the state ranked second in economic performance in a country that has heavily relied on mining decides to introduce legislation to ban all exploration and development of unconventional onshore gas. This is Victoria.
Unconventional gas mining refers to the extraction of natural gas from geological formations that are more difficult to access through conventional means, and therefore require less conventional methods such as a process called hydraulic fracturing, also known as ‘fracking’. Examples of gas reserves defined as unconventional include coal seam gas, shale gas, and tight gas.
Fracking involves the injection of a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure down a well to fracture rocks containing methane, enabling the gas to flow more easily and be captured. Fracking is almost always used to extract shale gas and tight gas, and sometimes used for coal seam gas.
The unconventional method does not come without its risks and this has been one of the drivers towards the ban. Potential risks include increasing the connectivity between different geological layers, contaminating water sources, and the spillage of fracking fluids at the surface.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew, announcing the ban, said: “This is the first ban of its kind anywhere in our nation. And it just speaks volumes to the dangers, the uncertainty and the anxiety within the Victorian community about fracking – we just don’t think those risks are worth taking”.
In 2012, the Victorian Government placed a moratorium on onshore unconventional gas mining. Since then, it has consulted farmers, environment and community groups, the gas industry and market analysts, hydrogeologists, tourism operators, manufacturers, local government, and the general public. A final report entitled ‘Inquiry into Onshore Unconventional Gas in Victoria’ was published in 2015 and was the product of more than 1,600 submissions over a 6-month period. It can be accessed here.
While the 2015 inquiry failed to reach consensus on whether the ban should be temporary or permanent, it helped the Victorian Government acknowledge that the risks involved with unconventional gas mining would outweigh any potential benefits.
This permanent ban is a win for Victorian farmers and regional communities who have been concerned about the environmental and health risks of fracking to their communities and way of life. They have been fighting it for the past five years through the Lock the Gate Alliance (see http://www.lockthegate.org.au). It is also a win for the climate by ensuring that the fossil fuels that are already difficult to extract remain in the ground.
On the other hand, the gas industry has warned of increasing energy prices for everyday Victorians as a result of the ban and that the manufacturing sector of regional and rural communities would be especially hard hit.