Fraccing controls 'need tightening'

Claire TyrrellCountryman
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Legislative changes concerning hydraulic fracturing (fraccing) are required to ensure the protection of public health, an independent review has found.

The WA Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) commissioned Queensland-based researcher Tina Hunter to conduct a review into the regulatory framework around fraccing.

The report, released last week, suggested several amendments to the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act to regulate the emerging shale gas industry in WA.

It said the resource management and environmental regulations needed to be tightened "to provide legal enforceability of existing processes".

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Dr Hunter noted the DMP's stringent approach to environmental regulation but said there was a degree of legal uncertainty around fraccing regulations.

In light of the contamination of water supplies in the US as a result of fraccing, the report suggested water management strategies for water produced in the extraction of unconventional gas deposits were crucial.

Full disclosure of the chemicals used in the fraccing process was also considered necessary. Miners are required to provide a full list of chemicals used in fraccing in their environmental management plans.

In its response to the review, the DMP said it would encourage miners to publically disclose their environmental management plans.

The report also suggested solutions to land access issues, such as those emerging in the eastern states due to coal seam gas operations.

Dr Hunter said the DMP needed to provide a pre-emptive land use management strategy to prevent land access conflicts.

"It is essential the DMP addresses land use and land access issues, identifying different land uses and stakeholders and the likely conflicts between these groups," the report said.

The DMP agreed to most of the recommendations in the Hunter review, noting steps it had taken to regulate the industry so far.

"The DMP has established an interagency working group to ensure a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to the regulation of onshore gas activities," the DMP said.

"The departments of water, environment and conservation, health, agriculture and food and the office of the Environmental Protection Authority are represented on the working group."

The DMP agreed to revise the environmental and resource management regulations to strengthen legislation around fraccing. Changes to environmental regulations are expected to be released for public comment early next year.

Resource management regulation changes should be publically available in mid-2012.

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