Fracking: The nays have it

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

An impromptu question by anti-fracking activist Jimmy Cocking provided the answer everyone wanted to know: Alice Springs, judged by the attendance of last night’s public meeting, is overwhelmingly against fracking.

 

This is how it unfolded.

 

The independent Scientific Inquiry Into Hydraulic Fracturing ordered by the NT Government was having its first scheduled public hearing.

 

About 120 people had registered and were seated at eight tables, each of which had an inquiry panel member as the chairman.

 

Each participant had a 21 page questionnaire before her or him listing 66 “risks” first published in a brochure launched by the inquiry on February 20.

 

The participants were invited to nominate further risks, and some did so during the evening.

 

p2416 fracking demoThese risks were grouped under headings including water, land, air, public health and so on.

 

For each heading, participants were invited to answer questions such as this: “Do you think that the risks and issues identified in Table 7.4 are appropriate for the Panel to consider during the course of the Inquiry?”

 

All very neat.

 

Enter Jimmy Cocking and his fellow campaigners. Some – identified by a yellow Frack Free Alliance triangle stuck to their shirts – had registered and were seated at the tables.

 

Some were not and were standing at the back of the room, or sitting on the floor leaning against the side walls. The crowd was now close to 200 people.

 

Inquiry chairperson, Judge Rachel Pepper, was gracious in not making a fuss about people who had not booked entering the room.

 

Mr Cocking, CEO of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, who had a place at one of the tables, stood up.

 

It was during the rather extended preamble to the meeting which was ostensibly held for members of the public to state their views, with merely two hours scheduled.

 

Judge Pepper’s introduction of panel members and explanation of the inquiry’s purpose was relatively brief (eight minutes).

 

But Professor Peter Flood, promising to be brief, managed to draw out to 27 minutes his explanation of the differences between coal seam and shale oil gas. These matters were raised incessantly during the Adam Giles pro-fracking campaign last year and anyone could have downloaded those details from the web.

 

Anyway, Mr Cocking was on his feet. He attracted the gathering’s attention and invited a vote: How many people want a permanent ban on fracking?

 

The response was impressive (see video above): From where I was sitting, near the front right-hand side of the room, with an unimpeded view of all the people, my estimate was that 80% of them put up their hands.

 

p2416 fracking demo 2That included many people sitting at the tables and not wearing a frack free triangle.

 

The action was clearly carefully planned by the Frack-Free Territory Alliance whose members, 40 or so people, had staged a friendly protest outside the Convention Centre, with kids dressed as bilbies and real camels with slogans painted on their sides.

 

The business part of the meeting was productive: At the end of the evening each panel member provided a concise report about the issues raised by the locals, with protecting our water sources by far the major concern.

 

The risks and issues brought up were:-

• The boom and bust cycles.
• Impact on employment and housing.
• Obtaining social licence.
• Who shares the consequences of mishaps.
• What economic benefits will the people get and are these benefits real? Who gets the money? Gas is being moved off-shore.
• Cost benefits analysis produced by the inquiry, not relying on industry claims.
• The debate on renewables is being distorted by the focus on gas. Lost opportunities?
• How well will the inquiry balance the risks and benefits?
• Is the industry sustainable?
• Impact on the economy: People may not wish to come here, people may move away.
• Job figures are inflated and will not eventuate.
• Opportunity costs: Gas may attract money that could be better spent, for example, on renewable industries.
• Upward pressure on cost of living.
• Climate change.
• Lack of knowledge about aquifers and their relationship to surface water.
• What happens when the natural gas runs out?
• Raising expectations that are not fulfilled.
• Involvement of Aboriginal population.
• Social impact such as domestic violence, sex industry and crime.
• FiFo.
• Infrastructure and the relationship to other industries.
• Damage to infrastructure by, for example, heavy trucks breaking up roads.
• Earthquakes and other seismic events, caused by fracking.
• Fire management and the involvement of volunteers.
• No faith in government regulatory functions. Judge Pepper summarised the opinion of people on her table: “There is just simply no adequate regulatory system currently in place to govern this industry in the Northern Territory.”
• The landscape will permanently change, affecting businesses that rely on it.
• Capability of established industries to benefit from the gas industry.
• Cultural amenity value to the local population.
• Built infrastructure, mainly roads.
• How to communicate the issues to the Aboriginal constituency. Need for interpreters through the entire process.
• Under the Land Rights Act, consent to explore also means consent to mine.
• Short-term decision making driven by “want it now” instead of more sustainable ways to manage the landscape.
• Where would the fracking water come from and where would the waste water be put?
• Distribution of water products, risk of dust.
• Difficulty of regulating anything in an area so vast.
• Accountability: What happens if a company goes bust? Risks many years after operations finish?
• Transparency about what chemicals are used. Public disclosure of chemicals at each well prior to each fracking.
• Fugitive emissions – how do we detect and measure them?
• Overflow of produced water in heavy rains.
• Spills from transport vehicles. Dust from vehicles. Cumulating effects from many wells.
• Management of ramp-up and ramp-down, sustained benefits.
• Land access approvals by landholders.
• Site rehabilitation – need for adequate bonds.
• Affect on health from chemicals.
• Effect of methane on climate change, a more damaging substance than CO2.
• Impact on flora and fauna, and amenity of people.
• Lack of knowledge about the industry.
• Consultation rushed, not covering enough of the Territory.
• The risk that we will destroy what is otherwise a virgin landscape.

 

VIDEO courtesy Frack-Free Territory Alliance.

 

UPDATE March 10, 2:20pm

 

We asked Judge Pepper: Given that this is an evidenced based inquiry, what did you take out of tonight’s meeting and the table discussions? She gave us the following statement in reply:

 

The Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory has a strong mandate to engage and consult with the community. Along with its program of gathering scientific evidence, the Inquiry will seek feedback from the community and stakeholders at different stages of the Inquiry, which, along with the science, will be included in its analysis and reporting.

 

The purpose of the first series of community meetings in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin in March was threefold.

 

First, the community meetings shared information on the Inquiry’s work to date and outlined the timing of its work program for the remainder of the year, which, at this stage, includes the release of an Interim Report mid year, release of a draft Final Report and a Final Report by the end of the year.

 

Second, the meeting also provided an opportunity for a presentation to the community on Hydraulic Fracturing of unconventional shale gas reservoirs by Emeritus Professor Peter Flood, which covered a range of technical elements such as drilling, water usage, types of well casing used, fracturing of rock, fracking fluids and gas extraction.

 

Third and most importantly, the community meeting provided an opportunity for members of the Inquiry to host round table engagement sessions with the public to explore the themes, risks and issues identified by the Inquiry that was part of the Background and Issues Paper released on 20 February 2017.

 

These round table sessions provided a useful forum for the Inquiry to obtain feedback directly from the community about the issues identified in the Background and Issues Paper, which will form the basis for the Inquiry’s work going forward. During the discussion, additional issues and concerns were identified with hydraulic fracturing, which were discussed and explored.

 

The community opinions and feedback on the risks and issues outlined in the Inquiry’s Background and Issues Paper will be utilised as social evidence by the Inquiry and will be considered along with the scientific evidence it is gathering and analysing.

 

 

 

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10 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. RayB
    Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Every human endeavour involves some risk. Riding a bike, playing in a port, eating out at a restaurant, flying interstate, driving a car: We assess the risk, consciously or subconsciously, in everything we do, and then get on with our lives.
    Many risks were identified in the fracking paper. However, have the risks been validated?
    Anyone can think of a list of risks, but are they reasonable?
    The risk assessment process determines what risks have high impact, and what are low.
    What is the actual result of risk coming true for each item? Low? Moderate? High?
    A valid risk assessment must be done for each risk and those results should be made available to the public before any meaningful discussion can be possible.
    I support rational discussion on the subject.
    I also expect we would look to the experiences of other countries where the fracking an horizontal drilling techniques are in full swing.
    We are not inventing the wheel here, so let us learn from the experiences of others.

    View Comment
  2. KM
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Ted Egan is definitely right: It is “lunacy to proceed”!
    We should definitely concentrate on renewables – there are not many other places in the world where the sun shines so brightly and consistently as in our beautiful Alice!
    Let’s do it and lead the nation!

    View Comment
  3. KM
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Ban it! No more fracking anywhere ever!
    The health risks are way too high and undeniable – don’t let them tell you any different.
    Some little villages near the wells have a third of the population with cancer a few years later!
    Not to mention all the other factors of what goes in the air, in the ground, and so on.
    It is not worth the short term gain if there is any at all!
    So many doctors have signed petitions and inquiries worldwide and need to be listened to.

    View Comment
  4. Bev Emmott
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Maybe if they went past the mine at night the flare zone would be obvious.
    Coming back from Adelaide at night and going past an area that was all red – was that a flare zone?
    If so the area was huge. It was around the road that heads to Sydney.

    View Comment
  5. Marli Banks
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    I am unsure who the author is referring to referencing the Frack Free Territory Alliance, to the best of my knowledge his is not a group?
    Central Australia Frack Free Alliance (CAAFA) is a small group of volunteers, of whom the number of attendees could be counted on one hand, and did not play part in organizing the impromptu raising of hands.
    The number of protesters seems to be grossly overestimated by the author, from what I observed attendees willingly accepted yellow triangles insupport of a ban on fracking, which was evident in the number of attendees that raised their hands when the question was raised.
    To simply lump everyone together is a insult to the community consultation process that took place, as I am sure most people who attended would agree.
    It is clear that overwhelmingly the residents of Alice Springs are concerned about the risks posed by this looming industry.
    In relation to registration, I was a registered attendee. However, I did not have a seat due to numbers, and therefore was standing. There was also ambiguity to the terms of registration, people that had not registered either were unaware of the process or believed that they were not required to register if not participating in presentations or round tables.
    I applaud the process taken by the Gunner Labor Government, the evening was a real credit to community engagement, should this method of consultation be adopted more widely, I am sure Government would gain more trust from their constituents.

    View Comment
  6. Braedon Earley
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    The Central Land Council and the Northern Land Council shouldn’t have a say in this debate.
    They are purely in existence as a statutory authority to administer the land rights act – period.
    They have no place being political animals and are acting as investment vehicles for their own end.

    View Comment
  7. Sue Fraser-Adams
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Erwin,
    I was very interested to read your report on the fracking inquiry.
    One risk that appears to have been missed in the long list is the risk to the health of human and beast of the gas flares that will accompany every well drilled.
    There is something known in the gas industry as the “sacrifice zone”, where everyone, both human and animal, is expendable.
    1 Territory (of which I am the Vice-President) sent out a press release earlier this week drawing attention to the fact the sacrifice zone will exist around the thousands of fracking wells the Labor Party has planned for the Territory. Most importantly, Darwin City, Palmerston, the northern suburbs, the rural areas and the Cox Peninsular are already in the sacrifice zone.
    The Conoco Phillips gas plant has been using a gas flare since it began production in 2008. You can’t see the flare very well but they burn off an unknown quantity of toxins from the plant on a regular basis. What is most concerning is in the near future we will have one of the world’s largest gas plants operating a massive gas flare in very close proximity to a capital city and its main residential area.
    We are all in the sacrifice zone.
    Google the Inpex Environmental Impact Statement. Any reference to the gas flare is largely only to do with shielding the flame so it cannot be seen. There is some minor reference to monitoring however there is no detail.
    Territorians need answers immediately from Labor and the CLP. Did the Martin, Henderson, Mills, Giles and Gunner Governments know about the sacrifice zone when they negotiated these deals?
    What is currently in place to independently monitor the emissions from these gas flares?
    The EPA is not independent nor resourced properly to evaluate, regulate, monitor or ensure compliance to world standards.

    View Comment
  8. Harold
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    5% of the people making 95% of the noise.
    No different to the crew that hung out at Pine Gap for a couple of weeks.
    There were no ‘pro Pine Gappers’ there to off-set they nays.
    Suggesting this group is representative of the entire community is patently absurd.
    But then there’s never really been much objectivity when reporting on this issue.

    [ED – Reading our report carefully, in fact its first paragraph, will discover this: “Judged by the attendance of last night’s public meeting …”
    I suggest you may like to inform all those people who were not there that in their absence we can hardly quote them.]

    View Comment
  9. Ted Egan
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    I attended the meeting and was impressed by the panel and the presentation. I shall forward my comments on the comprehensive sheet provided.
    So, on that score, congratulations to government for the thoroughness of its inquiry to date.
    There is no doubt in my mind that, if a single risk is present, it is lunacy to proceed.
    Alice Springs News has listed over fifty definite adverse risks. Leave the gas in the ground.
    Let’s concentrate on the renewables for power. Tides in the Top End; wind at Tennant Creek and the Barkly Tableland, solar in The Centre.
    We could lead the nation.

    View Comment
  10. Mabel
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Central and Northern Land Councils both want fracking.

    View Comment

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