Calls mount to suspend fraccing

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Horticultural groups are calling for an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in WA’s arable land.

Vegetables WA executive officer Jim Turley wrote to WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore calling for a stop to the controversial practice.

Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fraccing’ involves pumping fluids to create fissures in natural rock formations to allow natural gas to move more freely in wells.

The fraccing process is used to extract unconventional gas supplies such as coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas.

Mr Turley said the State Government had not done enough research into the practice.

“We are strongly opposed to fraccing, ” he said.

“The Government needs to acknowledge the potential risks to our groundwater systems.

“If there is any risk, they shouldn’t allow it.”

Hydraulic fracturing has occurred in WA’s Mid West for the past few years.

Exploration licences for unconventional gas have also been granted for Kaloorup Road near Busselton and the Kimberley’s Canning Basin.

Miners have applied to extract unconventional gas from the Whicher range in WA’s South West, but this has been met with strong opposition.

Australian Worldwide Exploration (AWE) owns a number of gas wells in the north Perth basin.

A number of these have been vertically drilled to extract conventional gas, whereas fraccing involves drilling at right angles.

Dongara grower Rod Copeland runs a 40 hectare property, where one of AWE’s gas wells sits.

His property is home to Yardarino 1 — one of the first gas discoveries in the Dongara region.

The well was first drilled in the 1960s, before AWE acquired it in 2008.

“The well is disconnected, and it is going to be plugged and abandoned, ” Mr Copeland said.

“It has only been operational spasmodically for the last 10 years.”

The Copelands bought the property in the 1980s and agreed to the lease conditions of the well.

The Copelands grow rockmelons, pumpkin, honeydew, sweet corn and mangoes.

AWE owns significant deposits at the Corybas gas field, about 1.5km from the Copelands’ farm.

Mr Copeland expressed concerns about possible adverse impacts on hydraulic fracturing at Corybas.

“I am concerned about the future of our groundwater supply, because contamination does not recognise any boundaries, ” he said.

“I would not let them frac here but I don’t have to.

“We are on the south side of Corybas and the water flows north-east to south-west, so we are virtually down hill from those wells.

“We’ve got a valuable resource with the water here and we can’t afford to lose it.”

AWE this month held a landholder meeting in Dongara and assured locals on the safety of its activities.

AWE corporate development manager Garry Marsden said the company believed there was a future for hydraulic fracturing in the north Perth basin.

He said the practice had occurred for at least the last two years, with no adverse affects.

“There has been fracture stimulation in the north Perth basin for quite some time and there hasn’t been an adverse impact on groundwater supplies. We are working at depths that are considerably deeper than the aquifers, ” he said.

“We drill through the aquifers, which are protected with multiple steel casings.

“That is what we have always done and what we plan to do into the future.”

Mr Marsden said community consultation was a crucial part of the miner’s activities. AWE approached Mr Copeland to build a pressure reduction station on his land, but was met with opposition.

“Because AWE found a lot of gas at Corybas but had to hydraulically fracture to get that gas, they wanted to bring a gas pipeline under our property to the Yardarino well site and put a pressure reduction station on that site, ” Mr Copeland said.

“We didn’t want them to because of the interruption it would cause to our operation.

“We negotiated with AWE and the neighbour and got an outcome.”

Mr Moore is an avid supporter of hydraulic fracturing and of unconventional gas and its contribution the State’s energy future.

He said the process was thoroughly regulated, which meant contamination of groundwater supplies would not occur.

But fraccing has been banned in the parts of Europe and the US after contamination of groundwater reserves was discovered.

New South Wales recently extended its moratorium on fraccing until the end of the year, to allow for a senate inquiry to be held into coal seam gas mining.

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