Fracking probe: Part risks raised, part industry pitch

p2410 fracking probe 2By ERWIN CHLANDA


The front cover photo shows a sublime waterhole where you can escape The Centre’s heat. Or is it a billabong where you might throw in a line and catch a barra? The blue sky is reflected in the crystal clear water which is surrounded by vibrant green bush.


There is no hint of towering drilling rigs, grease-covered roughnecks or flames coming out of water taps – the stock pictures for fracking.


Yet the idyllic image adorns the “background and issues paper” released yesterday by the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the NT.


On the one hand the paper nominates 66 “risk themes” that need to be addressed.


p2410 fracking probe 1On the other hand the 28 page booklet looks like a propaganda brochure of the oil and gas industry: As has been the case with every discussion about fracking in the past year or two, differences are stressed between coal seam gas and shale gas (which is what we have – and it’s so much more benign).


Shale is much deeper, is the refrain, or as the brochure says, it is “deeper and therefore further away from potable water sources.”


AT LEFT: The grey areas show prospective regions for shale gas.


Nevertheless, the drill has to go through the potable water table in each case, and trouble is most likely to occur at the wellhead on the surface.


Page 9 is likely to make you exclaim: “What are these bloody Greenies on about?”


It is explained that what is pumped down the pipe to do the fracking is 90% water (no more than 10 Olympic size swimming pools per well), 9.5% sand and only 0.5% chemicals. The latter are what you are using in your household even day (pictured below, right): They occur in your pool cleaner, soil conditioner in your garden, soap, ice cream, lemon juice and lipstick, to name a few of the brochure’s reassuring examples. .


p2410 fracking probe 4The issues paper refers to three earlier reports, two by Allan Hawke and one by Tina Hunter.


The issues paper says Dr Hunter “noted that further reforms to the regulatory framework were required in order to increase industry certainty, the accountability of the regulator, and the transparency of decision making”.


The issues paper does not refer to Dr Hunter’s key recommendation: “Well inspection by an independent certified third party inspector should be a mandatory component of the regulatory regime for drilling, and should be considered during the drafting of the relevant regulations.”


It remains to be seen whether that re-surfaces in the enquiry’s recommendations.


To have credibility, given the thousands of wells that are supposedly going to be drilled in the NT, we would need an army of inspectors: Even a minor slip-up can spell disaster.


At the moment we have seven inspectors.


Appointed by Chief Minister Michael Gunner the enquiry is due report in December until which time the fracking moratorium will remain in place.


p2410 fracking probe 3The inquiry has no power to make decisions about fracking. It will recommend.


The same goes for the public: it can express its views but Resource Minister Ken Vowles has the unfettered power to make the decision for or against fracking. At least at this point there is no talk of a plebicite on the issue.


We have requested comment from Matt Doman, of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and Jimmy Cocking, of the Arid Lands Environment Centre.




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One Comment (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted February 24, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    “The latter are what you are using in your household even day (pictured below, right): They occur in your pool cleaner, soil conditioner in your garden, soap, ice cream, lemon juice and lipstick, to name a few of the brochure’s reassuring examples. .”
    I do not know about you Erwin, but I do not put: pool cleaner, isopropanol, guar gum, glutaraldehyde, borate salts ethylene glycol or polyacrylamide in my drinking
    Once you look at the name and the material safety data sheets, you can understand my view on fracking.
    [ED – Hi Evelyne, just to be sure, the statement isn’t mine, but the commission’s.]

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