By Chris Johansen
On 3rd May, Lock the Gate and Environs Kimberley presented a webinar outlining an extremely scary scenario if plans for fracking in the Kimberley come to fruition. Currently, proposals to begin fracking between Broome and Fitzroy Crossing and within the Fitzroy River catchment are before the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). The EPA outcome will be released for public comment in June and these organizations are pleading for as much input as possible from concerned citizens and other environmental organizations.
Claire MacKinnon, from Lock the Gate and the associated Frack Free WA, pointed out that there were fracking attempts at three sites in the Kimberley during 2004-15, all of which failed. Greenhouse gases were found to be leaking after closure of operations. In one well the wastewater had radioactivity. Community action prevented any further fracking ventures after 2015 and forced WA to ban fracking in some areas of the state (e.g. the South West), but petroleum title areas still exist primarily in the Canning Basin and northern Perth Basin (between Gingin and Geraldton).
Gas fracking wells at Dish, Texas, USA. Credit Jeremy Buckingham
Now, various fossil fuel companies are planning to ramp up exploration activities, through seismic surveys and exploratory wells. Claire pointed out that this exploratory activity itself is very environmentally destructive (see photo above). If permission to proceed with commercial production is given then thousands of wells will be needed to make it an economically viable operation. Such a scenario would double Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Martin Pritchard of Environs Kimberley reminded that the Kimberley, and into the northern parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland, remain the most relatively intact areas of tropical savannah left in the world. Even so, the region has to some degree been degraded by cattle grazing and introduction of feral animals and weeds.
Only small areas of once extensive tropical savannah in Africa and South America remain relatively intact, with northern Australia having by far the biggest at least semi-intact area left on the planet. And in the Kimberley in particular there are many species of unique flora and fauna (e.g. Freshwater Sawfish), some of which are yet to be discovered.
Nuriah Jadia, and her mother Madelaine, Kimberley country traditional owners, gave powerful and emotional pleas to save their land from fracking. They reminded us that basic First Nations philosophy is “we belong to country and country belongs to us”. Their own spirits are entwined with the land and that substantial disturbance of nature in their country would amount to spiritual and cultural genocide. They explained that they had, over the years, observed the subtle effects of climate change in altering plant and animal behaviour and thus affecting traditional bush food. They humbly requested indigenous and non-indigenous communities to come together to protect their heritage, and their future.
Martin Pritchard explained that gas reserves of the Canning Basin are estimated at 452.3 trillion cubic feet but to access most of it would require fracking. This compares with reserves of 11.1 trillion cubic feet in the Scarborough field, and we know how much damage that would do if extracted (15 coal-fired power stations). In addition to the damage to the landscape done by the fracking operations themselves, there is a proposal to build a gas pipeline from the Kimberley fields to Karratha for processing gas to LNG. This would require further environmental disruption along the pathway of the pipeline. The cost of the pipeline is estimated at a billion dollars, which would require thousands of wells over a wide area to get a return on this investment.
As a follow-up to the 3rd May webinar, a protest was held at the AGM of Black Mountain Energy, one of the fracking proponents, on 27th May. It was attended by supporters of Environs Kimberley, Lock the Gate and Frack Free WA
The population of the Kimberley is only around 40,000 and thus they have a limited human resource base to resist what multinational companies want to do with their land. They therefore call upon concerned people and organizations in Perth, and elsewhere in Australia, to assist. Some of the actions that can be taken include:
- Write a personal letter or email to the Premier, cc. Ministers Cook and Whitby, spelling out your personal concerns about fracking going ahead in this state and in the Kimberley in particular.
- When the request for public submissions is released in June, submit a personal submission and encourage concerned organizations to which you belong to submit an organizational submission. Watch the Environs Kimberley, Lock the Gate, Frack Free WA and EPA websites for when the request for public submissions is posted.