WA – A History of Safe Onshore Natural Gas Development

As the Western Australian Government is in the process of reviewing the Report, including its Findings and Recommendations, provided to it by the Independent Scientific Panel Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation in Western Australia we thought it would be an appropriate time to reflect on the use of natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing in the State.

For a start – this Inquiry isn’t the first that a Western Australian Government has facilitated. The 2017/18 Independent Inquiry is preceded by the Environmental and Public Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the Implications for Western Australia of Hydraulic Fracturing for Unconventional Gas, which commenced in August 2013 and released its final report in November 2015.

In a statement which coincided with the release of the report, the Committee noted that:

“[It] has found that there is significant concern amongst the community about the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing but at the same time, there is a level of misinformation present in the public domain that can cause confusion and mistrust.”

We couldn’t agree more – misinformation about the technology (fracking) has caused unnecessary fear in the community. One of the recommendations in the report concluded that:

“(T)hat any future consideration of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional gas in Western Australia be based on established facts, ascertained through baseline data and monitoring, with a view to strengthening the industry’s social licence to operate.”

Following the release of the Committee’s final report, a number of recommendations were adopted by Government.

History of hydraulic fracturing in WA

The technique of hydraulic fracturing can be traced back over 60 years in Australia.

In Western Australia, regulated petroleum activities have been occurring in the state for the past 60 years without compromising health, safety or the environment. During that period, nearly 780 hydraulic fracture stimulation activities have been conducted without major incident.

The State has robust regulation in place to oversee the safe development of the onshore oil and gas industry and has increased transparency in relation to issues that are important to the community.

In Western Australia, for example, regulations require petroleum companies to publicly disclose all chemicals and additives introduced to a well or formation during hydraulic fracture stimulation. Chemicals and additives introduced to a well or formation are publicly listed on the department’s website.

In fact, when it comes to petroleum activities in WA, more than 15 Acts and 25 Regulations are used in protecting worker and community safety, native vegetation, water, parks and wildlife, Aboriginal lands and heritage, town planning and the resource.

The Regulator, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, adopts an objective-based regulation practice in which risks from petroleum activities are reduced to as low as reasonably practicable using national and international standards.

But, what is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing – also referred to as ‘fraccing’ or ‘fracking’ is a technique used to increase the flow of oil and gas to a well, increasing production and reducing the total number of wells needed to develop a resource. It allows commercialisation of low permeability reservoirs in which oil and gas do not easily flow.

…and is it safe?

Yes. But you don’t need to just take our word for it, here’s what some the experts have to say about developing resources which require the use of hydraulic fracturing:

“…having considered the latest and best-available scientific data from a wide range of sources, and noting the recent and continuing technological improvements in the extraction of onshore shale gas, the conclusion of this Inquiry is that the challenges and risks associated with any onshore shale gas industry in the NT can be appropriately managed.” – Summary of the Final Report, Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory (April 2018)

Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, told ABC Lateline in 2015 that:

“…there is a lot of evidence that fracking is safe. That it’s being used widely already in the coal seam gas fields, particularly in Queensland. It’s being used widely across America. The evidence is not there that it’s dangerous. In fact, the evidence is that, if properly regulated, it’s completely safe.”

Want to read more on the topic? Our website has a range of information about hydraulic fracturing.

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