09/09/2014 - 05:16

Fracking debate needs facts, not fear

09/09/2014 - 05:16


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Fear and loathing should never be allowed to override science when it comes to industrial development.

Fracking debate needs facts, not fear
UTOPIAN: Many in the anti-fracking brigade in the US, UK and Australia’s east coast oppose industrial development of any kind.

I'm always bemused by the shoot-the-messenger response that often follows any challenge to those with firmly held beliefs.

We've published a reaction from the Lock The Gate group – a fascinating alliance of conservationists and farmers that started on the east coast – to my recent piece questioning the opposition to fracking in the hamlet of Central Greenough.

You can read the reaction online here (http://www.businessnews.com.au/article/Fracking-debate-needs-science-not-fear) as a comment to my original piece.

If you read my original piece last week you'd note I highlighted of a number of issues that came to my attention via a press release and hearing a radio interview. Of course, Lock The Gate chose to focus on my scorn regarding the science of the numbers used by gas opponents, deriding my mathematical ability while they were at it. So be it.

Nevertheless, Lock The Gate has responded to my views and offered some numbers, including that eight volunteers surveyed 131 people, 126 of whom were opposed to gas development.

However nothing in the group's response in any way refutes my concern about how pseudo-science is used to drum up headlines aimed at preventing development.

I realise that Lock The Gate and its associate, Frack Free Geraldton, were miffed at my view but here's how I read their obviously considered response: I'll get eight of my mates and a survey 'methodology' dreamed up by some like-minded souls who want stop development and go doorknocking.

What was the methodology? It is based around one question: "Do you want your road/land gas field free?" The responses to this were collected by non-independent volunteers, so we don't know what was said before the question was asked. No credible scientist in the world would base his or her research on such a survey. It is not scientific because it is most likely biased.

How is that different from eight employees of a gas company conducting a doorknock based on some advice from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association? I guess the question they would ask is: "Would your community benefit from

having an alternative industry based here?", or maybe "Would you like alternatives to coal as energy sources?" ... just pick one.

If I dared to suggest that approach was scientific, would Lock The Gate agree?

Of course, my opinion was also discounted for my admission that I had not, to my knowledge, stopped at Greenough. Does that make me unable to comment? My reaction was to the widespread media effort engaged in by Lock The Gate, in which the Greenough survey was used to hammer home the 'stop development' message.

If this was just about Greenough why the press releases? Why the radio commentary? We all know this isn't about Greenough, and it's not just about fracking, this is about chipping away at any development starting with those who are most gullible and least interested in checking the science.

Again I refer to the chosen Greenough spokesman put forward as representing the opposition to gas development who was interviewed on ABC radio. His view was formed upon watching a DVD – his words not mine. From what I could tell, that was his sole source of information. If that the basis for informing the state via the national broadcaster, I'd be careful about who derides whom when it comes to doing their homework.

Anyway, if I am to be dismissed for not visiting Greenough I'd have to wonder how many of the 126 surveyed opponents of gas fields, or even the eight voluntary surveyors, have been to a gas field.

Fracking, in some form another, has been taking place in Western Australia for well over a decade. I have visited some areas where fracking has taken place and am an informed consumer of news, yet I cannot recall any significant environmental or social issue related to fracking in this state, let alone a disaster. Even nationally, most of the concern around this issue is just that – concern.

This is a resources state. We have a long track record of extracting resources in a sensible manner. It is also a big state, with its special geology, which cannot be easily compared to other regions where different types of unconventional gas, higher populations and poorly managed development have prompted community concern.

Most of the problems over east, from what I can tell, are based on a legacy of callous behaviour by early developers and fear-mongering over environmental issues, which are so often cited in propaganda and so rarely actually documented by real investigation. If you dig hard enough there seems to be, at most, two

documented examples of belowground water contamination by drilling for coal-seam gas.

The rarity of proven examples and the absence of real disasters when there are more than 5,000 active wells further highlights to me that the anti-fracking message has lurched well and truly beyond sensible debate.

There are risks in this area, no doubt. Shoddy work and poor community management has led to poor outcomes, in a few cases. But gas extracted by fracking is no different than any other form of development. So why should these risks be treated any differently than those associated with drilling for oil, digging for coal or even putting up a wind farm?

In fact, if you asked any rural resident in Australia "Do you want a wind farm on your road or land?" most people would say 'no' too. So far there is a lot more evidence of environmental, visual and health impacts from these than gas developments, but we don't seem to have intractable opponents on a mission to terminate this industry. Why is that?


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