Groups at odds over fracking

Claire TyrrellCountryman
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WA's peak farm lobby groups are at odds over the controversial gas extraction process hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

WAFarmers recently called for a moratorium on fracking and a tightening of the laws around it, while the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) has deemed such measures unnecessary.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said farmers were increasingly concerned about the extraction of unconventional gas deposits as more projects were being considered in WA. He called for amendments to the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 and Petroleum Pipelines Act 1969, to include a power of veto for landholders.

"We have concerns that the legislative protection offered to farmers through the Mining Act 1978 does not exist in the Acts that allow for gas and petroleum exploration activity on farmland," he said.

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"Section 29 of the Mining Act 1978 contains the 'power of veto' which requires that mining tenements cannot be granted without the consent in writing of the owner and occupier of private land where agricultural pursuits are being carried out."

As well as changes to the petroleum and gas legislation to include a power of veto, WAFarmers also supported the WA Greens' call for a moratorium on fracking until more could be found out about the process.

PGA president Rob Gillam dismissed the need for a moratorium or legislative changes.

"We are aware there is a lot of public concern about fracking at the moment, however, there is no documented case of any problems of fracking in WA as far as water quality is concerned," he said. "I've got no problem with there being public debate and interest but a moratorium would be over the top."

Mr Gillam said he saw no reason why the legislation around fracking should be changed.

Fracking involves the pumping of chemicals into the ground at high pressure to extract unconventional gas, as opposed to natural gas.

In WA, the process is used to extract shale and tight gas, which are sourced at deeper levels than coal seam gas, the extraction of which has attracted a great deal of controversy in the eastern states.

A moratorium exists on coal seam gas production in New South Wales after it was proved its extraction contaminated groundwater supplies.

In Queensland, farmers have mounted a 'lock the gate' campaign after petroleum companies dotted thousands of coal seam gas wells on farmland.

Onshore unconventional gas production in WA dates back to 1999 but so far fracking activity has been minimal. An increase in fracking in WA is expected this month when at least four Mid West wells are planned to begin production.

WA Greens MLC Alison Xamon moved for a moratorium on fracking on June 24.

Ms Xamon welcomed WAFarmers' support and said there should be concern about fracking's potential adverse impact on groundwater supplies.

"Now there is considerable concern about the potential impact of fracking on the water supply, both because of the large volumes of water required as well as the potential for contamination," she said.

The moratorium is due for debate in Parliament next week.

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