A moratorium on gas fracking in WA has been lifted, with the controversial practice restricted to existing petroleum titles covering two per cent of the state, but the premier concedes “not everyone will be thrilled.”
The Labor state government last year banned fracking in the South West, Peel and Perth regions, which remains in place, and implemented a moratorium for the rest of the state while a scientific inquiry was conducted.
The report was handed down on Tuesday, concluding the international standards for fracture stimulation wells, if properly executed and located, generally limited risks to people and the environment to a low level.
The state government has accepted all 44 recommendations in the report including an enforceable code of practice, and banning the use of four fracking fluids collectively known as BTEX, which have been found to be “persistent and toxic”, inquiry chair Tom Hatton said.
Another key recommendation is a 2km separation between fracking wells, water sources and residences.
Fracking will require approval by land owners, including traditional owners, and the Environmental Protection Authority.
Previously, farmers couldn’t stop gas explorers coming onto their land, hence the Lock the Gate movement.
There are only four advanced projects in the Canning Basin in the Kimberley region, around Dongara in the Mid West region and in a small part of the Gascoyne region.
Mines Minister Bill Johnston said it was hard to value the potential gas production and royalties from these projects as some of the estimates by the companies involved appeared over-optimistic.
Premier Mark McGowan promised more acreage would not be opened up to fracking while he’s in power.
“It’s an industry that needs to prove itself and it’s an an industry that needs to comply with this very tough regime,” Mr McGowan told reporters.
He conceded one of the considerations in lifting the moratorium was the companies potentially suing the government if it remained.
“We wanted to make sure that we had the best environmental protection regime in place and landowner consent,” Mr McGowan said.
“And we wanted to make sure, frankly, that we are a safe place to invest and do business in, because we need employment in the state.”
Fracking opponents have promised to fiercely campaign against the decision and the premier acknowledged there would be criticism.
The Dampier Peninsula will be off limits, as will all existing and proposed national parks.
Environs Kimberley said there would be a bigger campaign against the decision than protests seen for Woodside’s now abandoned plan to process gas onshore at James Price Point, which is on the Dampier Peninsula.