Policy plan to veto fracking on farms

Policy plan to veto fracking on farms


Agribusiness
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A POLICY position giving farmers an option to stop oil and gas companies coming onto their land will be considered by The Nationals WA this month.

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Moore MLA Shane Love (centre), with farmers, former PGA president Rob Gillam (left), Dongara and Keith Camac, Carnamah, at a WAFarmers forum at Carnamah last year on agriculture and gas exploration and mining co-existing. Mr Love has ensured The Nationals WA State conference this month will debate a farmer's right to veto oil and gas access.

Moore MLA Shane Love (centre), with farmers, former PGA president Rob Gillam (left), Dongara and Keith Camac, Carnamah, at a WAFarmers forum at Carnamah last year on agriculture and gas exploration and mining co-existing. Mr Love has ensured The Nationals WA State conference this month will debate a farmer's right to veto oil and gas access.

A POLICY position giving farmers an option to stop oil and gas companies coming onto their land will be considered by The Nationals WA this month.

Long-time advocate of legislated or regulation-mandated access agreements for the oil and gas industry, Moore MLA Shane Love said his local branch would ensure the issue was debated at The Nationals' State conference.

Mr Love said the Moore branch of The Nationals WA would take a motion to grant farmers the right of veto to the State conference in Geraldton on October 29.

He said he was "confident" it will become part of the party's policy platform for the State election in March.

"That motion would give landholders the same right of veto over the petroleum industry that landholders have within the Mining Act 1978," he said.

Minerals exploration and mining is controlled in WA by the Mining Act and section 29 (2) of that act requires written permission from landowner and occupier before a mining tenement is granted over private land that is generally used for farming.

But on-shore oil and gas exploration and extraction is administered under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 which does not have an equivalent section.

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

It is one of a number of areas of the State considered to have potential for unconventional gas - known as tight gas and shale gas - trapped in rock between two and four kilometres underground.

It has become a hot spot in WA for environmental group and local community opposition to hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking - pumping a high-pressure cocktail of water, surfactants and abrasive materials into deep rock fissures in the search for unconventional gas.

"Having agitated for greater landholder rights since being elected nearly four years ago, I believe now that the most straightforward way of ensuring that landholders operate in a level playing field is that they have the right of veto," Mr Love said.

He said his views on the oil and gas industry and land access had strengthened over time.

"I crossed the floor to vote against both my Nationals colleagues and the Liberal Party soon after being elected in 2013," he said.

"This was to oppose amendments that would further erode property rights of farmers and other land holders under the law governing oil and gas.

"Over the intervening period, I have gathered support within the National Party room for a better deal for land owners and have put proposals to the Minister for Mines and Petroleum that, whilst then stopping short of a veto, would have greatly improved the negotiating position of farmers."

Mr Love said his proposals broadly reflected last November's findings of a Legislative Council Inquiry into the implications of fracking for WA.

The government accepted 10 of the inquiry's 12 recommendations, including increased penalties and requiring the Department of Mines and Petroleum to liaise with the Environment Protection Authority on all fracking proposals and to consult with the Department of Water on monitoring aquifers.

It also accepted public disclosure of fracking chemicals and a ban on benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene for fracking.

But it rejected establishing an independent statutory body to oversee land access negotiations between oil and gas companies and farmers and appointing a working group to draft a statutory access code to replace a voluntary code accepted by Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) members last September.

"My position further strengthened when it became clear that the government was not going to adopt all of the recommendations of the Upper House Inquiry," Mr Love said.

"I then realised it was time to cut to the chase and simply give farmers the right to say no."

Mr Love, who has been involved in negotiations with oil and gas explorers in the Mid West region for the past five years, said he understood concerns by some in local communities about potential development of the gas industry.

"Giving landholder's the right of veto is the most effective and clear cut way of maintaining their property rights," he said.

Previously Mr Love has said he did not think the government's response to the inquiry would make much difference without statutory oversight or access agreement provisions.

"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 last November at a briefing for Farm Weekly with Nationals deputy leader Mia Davies and Agricultural Region MLCs Paul Brown and Martin Aldridge.

His views were supported by WAFarmers with chief executive officer Stephen Brown describing the omission of an independent regulatory body and formal access agreement as "huge oversights" by the government.

Mr Love's comments on a potential The Nationals WA policy giving farmers more control over land access came the same day last week as WA Labor announced it will ban fracking in the South West, Peel region and metropolitan Perth if it gains government in March.

Opposition leader Mark McGowan was joined by Collie-Preston MLA Mick Murray, who had collected 2000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban on fracking in the South West, at Capel for the announcement.

"The community has been vocal on this issue and WA Labor has listened," Mr McGowan said.

"They've overwhelming backed Mick Murray's campaign for a frack-free South West and I'm delighted we've been able to give them an assurance that fracking will not occur in these regions under a government I lead."

Mr Murray said it was vital the South West was protected from industries that could have a negative impact on how it was perceived.

"It's WA's biggest tourism destination and the unique natural environment is a major drawcard for international visitors," Mr Murray said.

APPEA condemned Labor's proposed fracking ban.

"At a time when the Western Australian economy is struggling and unemployment is rising, it is disappointing to see WA Labor choose short-term politics over regional jobs and investment," said APPEA chief executive Dr Malcolm Roberts.

"Western Australia is a resource State, depending on its good reputation to attract investment to develop its natural resources.

"Gas is absolutely vital to its economy - as a high value export and as the major source of energy for local homes and businesses.

"There is no environmental or public health and safety justification to ban hydraulic fracking.

"That is not just the opinion of the industry which has been safely using the technique in WA since 1958 - it is the considered view of every reputable, independent scientific inquiry into fracking," Dr Roberts said.

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