EPA rejects independent review call

Claire TyrrellCountryman

WA's environmental watchdog has refused to independently assess a series of appeals lodged by Greens MLC Alison Xamon into hydraulic fracturing in the Mid West.

In the past 12 months, the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) has approved four projects.

Arch Energy has been given the green light for unconventional gas exploration at Senecio near Dongara and the Woodada gas field near Eneabba, while Norwest Energy is currently drilling at Arrowsmith.

Latent Petroleum is assessing unconventional gas deposits at Badgingarra's Warro gas field.

Last month, Ms Xamon referred four hydraulic fracturing projects to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for assessment, citing environmental concerns.

The Conservation Council of WA has also lodged appeals against the EPA's decision not to assess the four Mid West projects.

However, the EPA did not believe there was a need to assess the projects, on the grounds that they were not likely to have a significant impact on the environment.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fraccing, is the process by which unconventional gas deposits are extracted. It involves pumping chemicals deep into the ground at high pressure.

The process has been banned in parts of the US and Europe, after it was found to cause lethal contamination of groundwater supplies.

Ms Xamon said she was disappointed with the EPA's lack of response to her appeals.

"It's not good enough," she said. "This is a new industry and the EPA needs to be applying due diligence now.

"At which point is it going to do something? Is it waiting for something to go wrong?"

EPA chairman Paul Vogel said the authority had looked at the appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Vogel said that the projects were small scale "proof of concept" proposals and "were not likely to have a significant impact on the environment".

He added the DMP was well positioned to manage potential environmental impacts associated with fraccing through environmental management plans.

However, Ms Xamon disputed this and drew attention to the 'pin cushion effect' fraccing would have on the landscape.

"The EPA is not interested in determining whether fraccing is environmentally sound," she said.

"What constitutes a critical land mass that warrants scrutiny from the State's environmental regulator?"

Acting appeals convenor Jean-Pierre Clement said investigations into each of the appeals were underway.

Mr Clement said the Arrowsmith and Woodada appeals would be completed by the end of the month.

Hydraulic fracturing (fraccing) *

·Calls for a moratorium into fraccing in WA are mounting, after several projects received government approval earlier this year.

·The New South Wales Government has imposed a moratorium on fraccing coal seam gas extraction until the end of the year.

·More than 3000 coal seam gas wells have already been drilled in Queensland, prompting calls for moratoriums on fraccing in the State.

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