The hydraulic fracturing moratorium on petroleum titles in Western Australia that existed as at November 26, 2018 has now been lifted.
On 5 September 2017, the Western Australian Government announced an independent scientific panel inquiry into hydraulic fracture stimulation in Western Australia and appointed an independent panel of experts (led by respected environmental scientist and researcher, Dr Tom Hatton) to report on the potential impacts arising from the implementation of hydraulic fracture stimulation on the onshore environment of Western Australia, outside of the Perth metropolitan, Peel and South-West regions.
On 12 September 2018, the Independent Scientific Panel handed its report to the Western Australian Government.
In essence, Dr Hatton’s scientific inquiry concluded that the risks from hydraulic fracturing were low and could be managed with good regulation and industry best practice.
After considering the report, the WA Government responded by accepting in-principle the Inquiry’s recommendations and announcing a raft of new, world-class controls as detailed in its Implementation Plan. The action to lift the moratorium is outlined in this plan.
This news follows the gazettal of the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Hydraulic Fracturing) Amendment Regulations 2019 which occurred last Friday.
The amendment lifts the moratorium on existing titles and prohibits fracking within two kilometres of gazetted public drinking water source areas, in national parks, towns and the Dampier Peninsula.
Fracking will not be permitted over 98 per cent of Western Australia, including Broome and Kalbarri, and all exploration and production projects will be regulated under new requirements.
Additionally, traditional owners and farmers will have the right to say no to oil and gas production from fracking on their land.
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety are co-chairing a Senior Officials Steering Group which developed the plan and is overseeing its implementation.
Mines and Petroleum Minister, Bill Johnston, said that companies undertaking future hydraulic fracturing activities will need to refer all exploration and production projects to the Environmental Protection Authority for assessment.
“A new code of practice will also be developed, prescribing minimum enforceable standards for hydraulic fracturing activities.”
“Proponents considering hydraulic fracturing are encouraged to engage with the Environmental Protection Authority and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety to ensure they understand the new requirements,” the Minister said.
Community group, Lock the Gate, was not pleased with the decision to lift the fracking moratorium for existing petroleum titles, instead stating that huge swathes of the extremely productive WA Wheatbelt and Mid-West regions, and key sensitive areas and wetlands across the Kimberley, could be fracked, according to the mapping released by the government.
A spokesperson for Lock the Gate in Western Australia, Jarrad Thomas, said the WA Government had failed the people of WA with this decision.
“Fracking poses an unacceptable risk to groundwater, the production of food and fibre, and WA’s unique environment,” he said.
“The McGowan Government hasn’t finished writing the codes of practice, or implemented the WA Fracking Inquiry’s recommendations. Nor has it done the community consultation it promised.”
Mr Thomas concluded that the that Lock the Gate Alliance condemns this decision in the strongest terms possible, and “vows to continue to work alongside communities in the fight against unconventional gasfields in WA”.