Govt misses fracking safeguard chance

24 Mar, 2016 01:00 AM
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Dongara farmer and a former PGA president Rob Gillam (left), Moore MLA Shane Love and farmer Keith Camac, Carnamah, at a forum at Carnamah in April last year on agriculture and gas exploration and mining coexisting.
You can virtually track where some of these companies have been by the level of community concern
Dongara farmer and a former PGA president Rob Gillam (left), Moore MLA Shane Love and farmer Keith Camac, Carnamah, at a forum at Carnamah in April last year on agriculture and gas exploration and mining coexisting.

AN opportunity for the State Government to engender public confidence in its administration of so-called fracking for gas in the Midwest, has been lost.

That is the view of the government's coalition partners The Nationals WA MPs and particularly Moore MP Shane Love.

Mr Love's electorate is centred on the gas prospective area near Dandaragan and Moora and includes gas fields east of Dongara.

It is also the view of WAFarmers after Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Marmion tabled the government's response last week to a parliamentary committee report on implications for WA of hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - for unconventional gas.

The government accepted 10 of the committee's 12 recommendations but rejected recommendations calling for an independent statutory body to oversee land access negotiations between gas companies and farmers.

It claimed a statutory body was not needed at this stage because voluntary mechanisms for negotiating access had improved since some of the gas fields in the Midwest were first discovered up to 40 years ago.

The government also rejected the committee's recommendation to establish a working group to draft a statutory access code agreement to replace a voluntary access agreement accepted by Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) members in September.

"I don't think anyone who opposes fracking is going to change their views on the basis of this report," Mr Love said last week, as he was joined by Nationals deputy leader Mia Davies, Agricultural Region MLCs Paul Brown and Martin Aldridge and Wagin MP Terry Waldron at a special briefing.

"But I do think it's a lost opportunity for the government to be able to move forward and gain the public's confidence in the whole discussion," Mr Love said.

"It hasn't allowed that to happen.''

Mr Love said he didn't think the government's response without statutory oversight or access agreement provisions would make much difference.

"We wanted the access code mandated by regulation or legislation so that it was something that had to be worked through regardless of whether a proponent was a member of APPEA or a good corporate citizen or not," he said.

Mr Love has been involved in discussions with landowners and gas companies over the past five years and participated in an information session at Carnamah last year organised by WAFarmers.

"You can virtually track where some of these companies have been by the level of community concern, or lack of community concern depending on what sort of corporate citizen they are,'' he said.

"(In the) Dandaragan area there is more angst, more mixture of land uses, more smaller landholdings and more landowners who at this point are not on side with the (fracking) process.

"That is where the (recommended) commission comes in, because the access arrangements only apply to the guy who is actually getting drilled upon - not the guy next door who feels his place is at some risk of being devalued because it basically has an industrial development next door.

"With the proposed commission there would be a sort of over-arching group to help to guide the development of the industry in a way that engenders confidence in the whole community, not just in those that are directly affected."

The two recommendations rejected by the government would have "created a level playing field", he said.

A member of the parliamentary committee which investigated the implications of fracking, Mr Brown said the two rejected recommendations had aimed to keep access disputes out of the court system.

"It (committee) proposed to introduce an equitable playing field, because the proponents and the landowners must be in the same room with an independent arbiter who is well informed," Mr Brown said.

"It would have ensured the cost impact is not put upon landowners to defend their land in the court system."

He said films such as American documentary Gasland had helped influence public opinion in WA about fracking although the circumstances here were different.

"That's what happened in Carnamah when the CCWA (Conservation Council of WA) provided those films to the council and the next thing you know is you've got a moratorium on drilling, with no balance to the argument," Mr Brown said.

Central Greenough Shire residents last year became the first in WA to declare their shire "gas-field free".

Carnamah Shire residents also demanded a similar declaration from their shire after a community survey of all residents returned a 96.8 per cent response in support of a "gas-field free" shire.

Nationals leader Terry Redman last week issued a statement on behalf of the parliamentary party saying the government's response to the committee report "did not go far enough".

Mr Redman said The Nationals WA supported the recommendations set out in the parliamentary committee's report.

"Two of those recommendations relate to landholder rights and setting up a formal system for landholders and resource companies to negotiate land access arrangements - similar to arrangements working successfully in Queensland," Mr Redman said.

"The Nationals WA would like to see this framework include enforceable provisions relating to land access, compensation and negotiation guidelines to ensure landholders are given every opportunity to engage with resource companies on equal footing.

"Further, we believe this framework should be governed by an independent statutory authority similar to the Queensland GasFields Commission."

Key stakeholders, including Vegetables WA and WAFarmers also indicated their support for the committee findings, he said.

WAFarmers chief executive officer Stephen Brown described the omission of an independent regulatory body and formal access agreement from the government's response as "huge oversights".

He said WAFarmers will continue to advocate for the rights of farmers and land owners to ensure the two "vital recommendations" are included in proposed legislation.

The government's response to the committee recommendations was due to be debated in the Legislative Council yesterday.

Given The Nationals MPs' objections to the two recommendations being left out, debate on the issue was "likely to drag on for a number of sitting weeks", Mr Aldridge predicted.

Committee recommendations accepted by the government proposed increased fines under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 and a revised memorandum of understanding requiring the Department of Mines and Petroleum to liaise with the Environment Protection Agency on all fracking proposals.

Mandatory consultation with the Department of Water and monitoring of aquifers was also accepted, along with public disclosure of fracking chemicals and a ban on benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene for fracking.

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Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly

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