Farmers in SA told to lock the 'fracking' gate

Farmers in SA told to lock the 'fracking' gate

Agribusiness
AQUIFER HEALTH: Balnaves vineyard manager Pete Balnaves, Coonawarra, says the sustainability of groundwater in the region is vital to his industry."There's two aquifers in the region, the unconfined aquifer and the confined aquifer below that," Pete said. "While there is some natural leakage between the two, we wouldn't like to see any human-induced leakage."

AQUIFER HEALTH: Balnaves vineyard manager Pete Balnaves, Coonawarra, says the sustainability of groundwater in the region is vital to his industry."There's two aquifers in the region, the unconfined aquifer and the confined aquifer below that," Pete said. "While there is some natural leakage between the two, we wouldn't like to see any human-induced leakage."

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LARGE swathes of agricultural land in the South East, Far North, and the Lower and Mid North have been named as potential targets for a controversial gas extraction technique that has been banned in France and Vermont in the United States.

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LARGE swathes of agricultural land in the South East, Far North, and the Lower and Mid North have been named as potential targets for a controversial gas extraction technique that has been banned in France and Vermont in the United States.

The State Government's draft Roadmap for Unconventional Gas Projects in SA, released last week, reveals exploration for coal seam gas, shale and tight gas is well under way in the regions and lauded its potential as an alternative to coal-fired electricity production.

This is despite hydraulic fracturing, or fracking - the process by which gas is released from coal seams and shale through high-pressure injection of chemical-rich water to fracture and open up the earth - remaining suspended in New South Wales while an independent review into the process and standards is concluded.

The SA exploration licences - which cover parts of the Coonawarra wine region and are adjacent to the Clare Valley - are being driven by more than 20 companies and joint ventures responding to the success of unconventional gas in the US, the processing and sale of which has rocketed in the past few years, due mainly to shale gas extraction.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said the sector had the potential to deliver hundreds of millions "if not billions" of dollars to the State and provide a new lease of life to the Cooper Basin.

"The road map is intended to inform investor strategies as well as build public confidence in the government's policies, programs and regulations of the unconventional gas resource sector," he said.

"It transparently lays out the factors that will be taken into account in considering whether or not to approve an unconventional gas project so as to ensure compatibility with co-existing natural, social and economic environments."

But fracking has proved unpopular in Queensland, where reports of carcinogenic contamination in aquifers surrounding Dalby is being blamed on CSG wells.

Lock the Gate Alliance president Drew Hutton says shale gas typically involves a lot more fracking than CSG.

He said it could lead to water transferring between aquifers, potentially contaminating potable aquifers with unpotable water, or chemicals leaked from the fracking process.

"If you ask just about any landholder up here, they would definitely not have CSG near them," he said.

"Some certainly entered into access and compensation agreements willingly, but most of the people I've spoken to who have entered into agreements have done so because they figured these companies are too big to fight.

"The SA community needs to lock their gates and refuse to negotiate access to these companies until there has been proper and thorough investigation of the potential impacts."

The NSW moratorium on fracking has been in place since April last year.

The State's Upper House recently completed an Inquiry into Coal Seam Gas that made 35 recommendations, including continuing the fracking ban until the National Industrial Chemicals Notification Assessment Scheme assessed the toxicity of the chemicals involved.

It also called for tightened water monitoring requirements, better information, rights and compensation for landholders, and the blocking of further production licences until a "comprehensive framework for the regulation of the CSG industry is implemented".

Tanunda farmer Peter Grocke, who has previously had to defend his farm against mining, says the SA roadmap failed because it relied on the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 to negotiate farm access.

Under the act, farmers are entitled to 21 days notice from an exploration company that plans to access their land, and have only 14 days to object.

"Farmers can't just abandon major operations at the whim of another industry that want to interrupt their business," Mr Grocke said.

"Pastoralists would need to come right down to Adelaide in most instances to get professional advice - and you can't assume that just because you ring a legal office, they'll give you a same day hearing.

"If the government's going to benefit by extracting these resources, then they've got to be fair on the land businesses they interrupt - and that hasn't happened to date."

A spokesperson for Mr Koutsantonis said the government held early discussions with affected parties well ahead of all P&GE Act operations.

"This enables potentially affected people and enterprises to reach informed opinions based on factual information well ahead of any decision to grant (or not grant) activity approval for upstream petroleum operations," he said.

"And the unconventional gas most easily foreseen to be economic in SA are deep plays with a footprint similar to conventional petroleum operations, and with targeted levels well removed from fresh water supplies."

*Full report in Stock Journal, May 24 issue, 2012.

The story Farmers in SA told to lock the 'fracking' gate first appeared on Farm Online.

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