Consultations on onshore gas

A STAKEHOLDER engagement program seeking public input on the possible development of onshore natural gas, including Coal Seam Gas, has been launched.

Eastern Victoria MLC Danny O’Brien said the program provided an opportunity for Gippslanders to have their say about onshore natural gas development and to access factual information about the industry.

“The Coalition Government is taking a conservative approach to this industry to ensure that our land and water resources are protected for the long-term,” he said.

“We have made it clear that development of the industry will not occur unless and until we are satisfied that these concerns are addressed.”

The state government placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and the issue of new exploration licences since 2012, which will remain in place until at least July next year while community consultation and independent water studies are carried out.

A complete ban on the use of BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) chemicals for fracking also remains in place.

“The government is overseeing a major benchmarking study of the impacts of natural gas extraction on underground water across the state, funded by the Commonwealth Government,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Victoria is also actively participating in the Commonwealth-funded Coal Seam Gas Bioregional Assessment of the Gippsland Basin, working with other Commonwealth Government agencies.

“These combined studies will provide information to inform decisions about this important issue.”

Mr O’Brien said it was vital water aquifers, agricultural production and liveability were not put at risk.

“Protecting regional and rural Victoria’s food and fibre production, water aquifers and liveability are really fundamental to the government’s approach to onshore natural gas,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said consultation would now be undertaken across the state with the assistance of an independent facilitator, including information open days, meetings with community groups, local government and farmers and workshops to discuss specific issues in greater depth.

He said the state government had also launched a dedicated natural gas community information website to inform the consultation process.

“The website features details of upcoming meetings as well as information about onshore natural gas, landholders’ rights, the Victorian regulatory system and scientific water studies,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Now is the time to get the facts on this important issue and have your say.”

Environmental group Friends of the Earth has welcomed the community consultation process.

Spokesman Cam Walker said he was impressed Energy and Resource Minister Russell Northe had moved quickly to get the process into the public realm.

“We hope that the current process will be sufficiently independent of vested interests that it will be taken seriously by the community,” he said.

“Briefings provided by the minister suggest that this will be the case.”

Mr Walker urged Mr Northe to “knock back” the current Lakes Oil application to carry out horizontal drilling near Seaspray.

“We (Friends of the Earth) believe that for this consultation to be meaningful, the government needs to extend the current moratorium on fracking to include all test drilling activity,” he said.

“Unless a full halt is put on all physical exploration activity while the consultation and research occurs, community tension and anxiety will continue to grow.”