Fracking problems in Australia
Australians in the rural areas of Queensland (the Northwest “state” in Australia) thought fracking coal seams was a great idea when it was introduced seven years ago. Australia has long been a major source of coal for Southwest Asia, and also a producer of liquefied natural gas. More than 4,500 wells were drilled in barely two years, and work has begun on a 250-mile pipeline from the gas fields to Gladstone Harbor and a massive liquefaction facility there.
About three years ago local people began to complain about damaging effects of fracking. Claims that aquifers have been damaged, ground water depleted, and huge amounts of climate warming gas have been released in a three mile area of the Condamine River, which at times appears to be boiling. Disease outbreaks have occurred in fish and crabs in Gladstone Harbor, which has also experienced dredging and large seasonal floods. The complainants argue what was formerly a great fishing harbor is now an industrial harbor.
Another irritant for Australians is the lack of information being provided on the environmental and health costs entailed in the race to make Australia the No. 1 LNG exporter in the world by 2020. It is now fourth.
Unlike the United States, property owners do not own the rights to minerals, they belong to the government. Ownership famously goes “posthole deep.” Farmers have seen their water table drop and surface disruption. They are not being told what is being injected into the coal seams. There is a “Gas Sheriff” to resolve disputes with landowners, but his son has a huge financial interest the development of natural gas.
Further complaints include “false accounting that doesn’t take into consideration the costs of environmental cleanup,” and ” tremendous enthusiasm among our politicians to push the industry forward with minimal impediment.”
The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, already under stress from increased sea temperatures, is threatened further. UNESCO has asked for assurances that by Feburary that port development would be brought under control and the reef protected or the heritage site would be listed as “endangered.”
Tourism is the next industry after coal in dollar value, and the economic situation is like the rest of the first world countries, dragging. Campbell Newman, the state premier (think Governor), responded to the world body report with assurances that the environment would be protected, “but we are not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down.”
The reason this story is newsworthy in the U. S. is that it is so similar to the shale fracking zones here. And guess what? The statements of politicians, such as Newman, above and the oil and gas executives come off the same page as the ones in the U. S., too. (1)
Speaking at a business lunch in Melbourne yesterday, ExxonMobil Australia president John Dashwood said it was understandable the recent rush to tap oil and gas locked in underground rock formations had caused public concern… He said technical experts were being left out of a public debate being driven by “novices” who “run agendas on emotional messages, stirring up fears by promoting catastrophes”. (2)
Pointing to the success of North America, where a predominantly free-market approach has helped unlock vast amounts of unconventional gas reserves that have ensured the continent’s long-term energy security, Mr Tillerson said countries needed to be careful when administering the industry.
“Governing or setting policy or regulations based on the precautionary principle will stifle innovation and investment and bring innovation to a standstill,” he said. “I recognise this is the objective of some, but if government puts development of these new sources of energy at a standstill, they will find their economies walking backwards.” (3)
Which in translation says:
(Newman) “No way we’re going to do major change.”
(Dashwood) “Public debate is being driven by facts on the ground, not our delightful-myth spinners.”
(Tillerson) “Being safe before you act is something physicians do. If we do it, it will spoil our game.”