No fracking impacts

SECTIONS of the Gippsland community fear unconventional gas projects may damage the region’s water table, but the activities of the major local explorer, Lakes Oil, have so far had no impact, according to Victorian authorities.

The Department of Environment and Primary Industries approved all the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that Lakes Oil has undertaken near Seaspray during the past decade.

No impact on the water table from Lakes Oil’s activities has been reported.

A spokeswoman for Energy and Resources Minister Nicholas Kotsiras, said there had been 23 fracture stimulation procedures involved in two fracking projects at Seaspray between 2004 and 2009.

Unconventional gas — shale gas, “tight’’ gas or coal seam gas — requires fracking, which involves pumping a fluid, mostly water and sand, under pressure into a coal seam or rock. Lakes Oil is targeting “tight’’ gas, not coal seam gas.

The regulation of mining and petroleum exploration and production below ground has since been transferred from DEPI to the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation.

Southern Rural Water general manager of groundwater and rivers Craig Parker said the fracking had been in the very deep rock formations, well below the water table.

“We are not aware of any fracking within the coal seams and no one has approached us with any proposal to frack within the water table,” he told the Gippsland Times.

Mr Parker said the Federal government’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee reviewed applications for coal seam gas or new large coal developments as part of the approval process.

“The committee is undertaking independent scientific research on fracking and other aspects of coal seam development.

This provides a body of knowledge for all to use,” he said.

The eight-member committee has expertise in hydrogeology, hydrology, ecology, geology, ecotoxicology, natural resource management and environment protection. It advises federal and state regulators and advises on bioregional assessments.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Protection Authority said the EPA would be involved in unconventional gas when it was part of coal seam gas extraction.

This was defined in Victoria as a mining activity, and thus “triggers our works approval and licensing requirements’’, she said.

“My understanding is that Lakes Oil activities to date have been around ‘shale gas’ or “tight gas’ extraction, which doesn’t trigger our regulatory involvement because it’s a petroleum activity, which we don’t regulate,” she said.

“Basically, the distinction is based on the nature of the rock or seam.”

According to Southern Rural Water if a coal seam gas proposal will affect other water users and the environment, it must be referred to the Planning Minister, who would decide whether it needs an environmental effects statement.

Any EES would be referred to the Commonwealth’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee for advice before the minister made a decision.

Mr Parker said that if a mineral company wanted to de-water a mine, or use groundwater for coal seam gas production, it must apply to SRW for a take and use licence.

“If they plan to inject substances below the ground surface, they must apply for an approval from SRW,” he said.

Mr Parker said SRW was improving its understanding of groundwater, producing three-dimensional maps of the resource.

It was also producing groundwater atlases that included the characteristics of each aquifer.

“Despite this work, there remain areas where our knowledge of groundwater is limited.

“In these areas, we apply a cautionary approach to its management which has been tested and supported at VCAT,” he said.

The moratorium is still in place on new exploration licences for coal seam gas and fracking.

Mr Kotsiras’ spokeswoman said the moratorium would stay in place while the government decided whether to add to regulations set out in the national harmonised regulatory framework for

coal seam gas. The federal and state governments signed up to this framework in May.

It is believed a decision is not far off.

Mr Kotsiras said in May that a decision on whether to add more regulations was expected “in the next few months’’.

The national framework sets out 18 leading practises focussing on four issues relating to coal seam gas mining: well integrity, chemical use during mining, fracking and water management.