Get the fracking out of Victoria

Gippsland farmers are rejoicing after a permanent ban on fracking was announced by the State Government on Tuesday.

Exploration and extraction of ‘unconventional’ onshore gas will be outlawed and a bill introduced to extend an existing moratorium on ‘conventional’ gas operations to 2020.

The news comes as a relief for local farmers concerned about the potential environmental impact of the controversial mining practice, with more than two dozen licenses to explore unconventional gas existing for various parts of Gippsland.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the ban would take effect this year to protect the farming and agriculture industry, worth billions in exports each year.

Having campaigned against fracking in the region for the past five years, Friends of the Earth representative and anti-mining movement Lock the Gate Gippsland co-ordinator Ursula Alquier said the ban was a victory for people power.

“If people hadn’t stood up and had a voice in this debate we might already be living in a gas field in Gippsland,” Ms Alquier said.

“We’ve been saying for a long time there’s no social license for unconventional gas in Victoria and the community supports a ban.

“The significance is we now have a government which actually values agriculture and the jobs agriculture creates. Also tourism is another big employer that would have been impacted if this was allowed to proceed.

“People are incredibly relieved, farmers feel like they can move forward in their farming enterprises without having the threat of unconventional gas on their backs.”

Fracking involves drilling into the earth and using a high-pressure water, sand or chemical mixture to extract gas from rock structures.

Last year’s state parliamentary inquiry into the industry received more than 1600 submissions which predominantly opposed the practice.

“We are an arid country and our most precious commodity is clean, uncontaminated water and our farmers need that to produce clean, safe food for the whole population,” Ms Alquier said.

“Through the state inquiry the government dealt in facts, and the facts add up to say it’s not worth the risk.”

Mining company Lakes Oil has interests in several Gippsland and Victorian sites, which will now go unrecognised.

Company chief executive Roland Sleeman said he accepted the ban on fracking, but the extension of the moratorium on conventional gas extraction – Lakes Oil’s primary focus – came as a “disaster”.

Conventional gas usually involves drilling directly into gas trapped in porous rocks, which is released without the need for high pressure pumping or fracking.

He said the decision went against the fundamentals of state legislation for petroleum and could have serious ramifications for jobs and gas prices.

“The petroleum legislation in Victoria has its underlying purpose to encourage exploration and production of gas for the benefit of all Victorians,” Mr Sleeman said.

“It seems to me government is turning its back on harnessing the gas resource of the benefit of Victoria.

“The benefit comes in multiple ways, ranging from competitively priced gas, the jobs and industry supported by competitively priced gas – some of which have already started to close down.

“If the industry goes, the jobs go.”

Mr Sleeman said he feared for the future of the company and gas prices across the state as a result of the ruling.

“The fact the ban has been extended basically threatens the existence of the company in its present form,” he said.

“There’s tight supply with the LNG (liquefied natural gas) project still ramping up at the moment; there’s a shortage of gas on the east coast and it’s only going to get worse.

“My gut feeling is it will make prices rise, but one thing we can be confident of is they’re not going to fall. That threatens industry, it puts pressure on households. Victorians use more gas than any other state in Australia in a domestic sense.”