No move on CSG

THE moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of onshore gas in Victoria will remain despite the state government receiving a report from the Gas Market Taskforce, led by former federal minister Peter Reith.

While the government has not decided whether to make the report public, Mr Reith said a coal seam gas industry was vital in Victoria to help keep down the domestic cost of gas.

Premier Denis Napthine said the government would use the report to consider the future of CSG in the state, but will gather other sources of information to gain a “full and comprehensive understanding of the issue”.

The report looks at issues surrounding the eastern Australian gas market, particularly the issue of rising gas prices. The government will respond in due course.

“We will take our time to consult widely and learn from the experiences of other states before making a decision on this important matter,” Dr Napthine said.

“As Victorians we are extremely lucky that we have been blessed with a rich and diverse range of energy resources.

“We have an abundance of brown coal reserves which are augmented by a number of alternative energy services including wind, Snowy-Hydro and gas-fired power plants that utilise natural gas obtained through vast offshore deposits.

“However, it is important that we take a responsible approach to ensure that Victorian homes and businesses have continued access to affordable energy resources in the long term.

“Addressing this issue is a complex task that requires considerable analysis to make sure we achieve the right outcome for the community, for the environment and for industry.”

The state opposition, environment groups and the Greens said there must be a proper public consultation process before CSG extraction is introduced in Victoria.

Shadow Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the taskforce had failed to consult with a number of important stakeholder groups, including environmental scientists, farmers and local communities.

Documents obtained by the opposition under Freedom of Information of agendas and meeting minutes of the taskforce show almost all consultations undertaken by Mr Reith to be with the energy industry, while there was no documented evidence of any local community consultation.

“Concerns have been raised that the taskforce assisting Mr Reith was heavily weighted towards industry whilst failing to adequately address the scientific and environmental impact issues around coal seam gas mining,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“It is important that any review into unconventional mining methods engage appropriately with farmers, local councils, regional communities and environment groups so that concerns can be addressed.

“Peter Reith’s ‘quick and dirty’ slapdash review has cost the Victorian taxpayer a bill of over $2000 a day with many questions still left unanswered.

“The Napthine Government’s review has failed to rule out that fracking would not put at risk the state’s water supplies, food production and tourism industries.

“Until we can get thorough scientific assessments and community engagement there will be no coal seam gas mining or extraction in Victoria under a Labor government.”

Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker said Mr Reith was using the spectre of an imminent gas crisis, job loss, rising prices, and the potential collapse of the manufacturing sector to scare the Victorian people into accepting his argument that there must start drilling for unconventional gas as soon as possible.

“He paints a remarkably naive picture of the industry, where farmers in Queensland are ‘happy’ and a ‘well managed’ industry has revived regional centres. The true picture is far more complex, with known contamination of water and grave health concerns in places like Tara on the Darling Downs,” he said.

Mr Walker said Mr Reith’s arguments were full of “obvious flaws”.

“Densely populated Gippsland cannot be compared with inland Queensland. He doesn’t say where the massive quantities of water will come from that will be needed for fracking,” he said.

“He denies the many well documented contamination events that have occurred around the world.”

Lock the Gate Victoria co-ordinator Ursula Alquier said any proposal to expand coal or unconventional gas operations would be deeply unpopular.

“The coalition ignores this strong community concern at its peril,” she said.