Two WA Labor MPs are calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the South West after increased community fear about the practice.
Fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure down a well to force open fractures in rock kilometres underground to enable oil and gas to flow into the well.
Residents have organised a series of meetings and protests in South West towns to discuss the potential impacts of fracking in the region.
Resident and community campaign organiser Lisa Chatwin said that she did not believe the industry was safe.
“You can’t control where the fracture is going to go, you can’t control the length of the fracture, you can’t control where that gas is going to go,” she said.
Ms Chatwin was also concerned about potential gas mining in bush and forested areas.
“Fire would be our major risk, they’re considering setting up gas fields in fire-prone environments and we saw just what happened recently with the fires around Preston and Waroona and Yarloop,” she said.
“So it’s a real concern.”
Hundreds of South West residents turned out to a nationwide highway protest last month rallying to “Lock the Gate” on gas exploration.
“This is a tourist area, we’ve got natural resources to protect and I don’t think it’s suitable for our environment down here,” Dunborough protester Moira Cameron said.
Brunswick Junction farmers Judyth and Terry Salom said they were concerned about potential impacts on water quality and the visual dislocation of the farming areas.
“We want to lock the gate because it’s a way of saying ‘you do not have a social licence here’,” Ms Salom said.
Mr Salom said he was also concerned about farmers’ lack of veto rights to prevent gas companies from entering their properties.
Opposition backs community
Collie-Preston MP Mick Murray, has responded to community concern, calling to legislate to make the South West a frack-free zone.
He has been spearheading a campaign, backed by Upper House Member for the South West Region, Sally Talbot, to ban fracking in the region.
“People don’t like it, they’re worried about it,” Mr Murray said.
“The Yarragadee water body that’s underneath there, we can’t afford to risk that at any shape or form.”
Ms Talbot said fracking could destroy local industries that relied on the clean, green region.
“We have major opportunities for job creation and training for our young people in the areas of tourism, hospitality, food production, agriculture in general,” she said.
“Fracking is just not going to match those other industries for us.”
The WA Labor Party has already called for a state-wide moratorium on fracking until more research could be carried out to determine its impact.
Where is the gas?
There are currently two gas exploration areas in the South West.
A new potential lease south-east of Bunbury, covering an area between Bunbury south to Capel and east to Donnybrook, was released 12 months ago.
The preferred applicant, initially called Unconventional Resources but since rebranded as Bunbury Energy, is in the first stage of native title negotiations.
The Department for Mines and Petroleum (DMP) said the Sydney-based company had no plans to frack.
The second area is the Whicher Range gas field, which covers an expansive area south of Busselton, just east of the Capes.
It includes the City of Busselton and the Shires of Capel, Augusta-Margaret River and Nannup.
Warren Buffett-owned Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary CalEnergy bought into one of the two leases at Whicher Range in 2011 and funded the latest round of drilling work there.
Data results are currently being analysed and are expected to be released next year.
Fracking was carried out at Well-5 in the Whicher Range 12 years ago but was unsuccessful and the well was plugged and rehabilitated.
CalEnergy maintains it would not use fracking to retrieve gas from the tight sandstone.
The DMP states fracking was usually required to access tight gas resources, but CalEnergy claims new drilling technology will overcome this.
The good and bad of fracking
Margaret River Shire councillor Peter Lane, a retired geologist and former Greens candidate, said fracking could be done safely.
“Hydraulic fracturing should never be done in some places,” he said.
“But where rocks, where the reservoir is deeply buried, such as in the Bunbury Trough, where the reservoir is 4 kilometres beneath the surface and 3 kilometres beneath the aquifer, fracking itself is safe,” Mr Lane said.
“The main risk is related to well integrity, and modern engineering is totally able to cope with that.”
Mr Lane said coal was the real enemy to the environment and increased gas production could pave the way to move from coal to renewable energy.
“Fracking in the United States has had a tremendous impact on gas prices and oil prices and has driven down the cost of energy hugely to make coal uncompetitive,” Mr Lane said.
“It will be decades at least until we can go entirely to carbon-free energy.
“The first step is for power generation to go to natural gas as an interim measure and then move as fast as we can onto carbon-free power generation.”