30/09/2014 - 13:30

Lot of gas in the fracking debate

30/09/2014 - 13:30


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Misinformation and pseudo science are being used to thwart fracking, which is in its infancy in Australia.

Lot of gas in the fracking debate

I do not want to go on about fracking, but it is so interesting when you pick up on a subject and run with it, as I have recently, to find how readers take note and highlight links to associated events and material.

So, no surprises that someone let me know that the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association had successfully taken the Conservation Council of WA to task over an anti-fracking advertising campaign run in the Geraldton Guardian.

The Guardian’s owner, West Australian Newspapers, ruled in favour of APPEA over its complaint about the council’s incorrect use of certain statistics, which the environmental group admitted it had got wrong.

I am not sure exactly what repercussions can be felt from such a ruling? Probably none.

Nevertheless, it is symbolic of the way this anti-development campaign is being waged, with a whole lot of misinformation mixed with pseudo-science being used tactically to stop an industry in its infancy.

I have no doubt that fracking elsewhere has been troublesome. The industry’s formative years in the US and then the eastern states of Australia were dominated by small, undercapitalised players, which experimented with all kinds of methods to extract gas from a wide variety of geological formations.

There are some environmental problems in some places as a result.

But much of the opposition to the industry has been about the behaviour of small cowboy operators, who seemed to ignore the rules of engagement that companies in a resources state like Western Australia take for granted. That is a social problem, not an environmental one, but it has left a legacy for the modern industry to deal with.

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because some explorers in the US or New South Wales went about things incorrectly it does not mean the environmental movement can exaggerate and manipulate the facts for their own purposes.

Many of the examples that anti-fracking campaigners use, when not simply made up as they are in some propaganda videos, ignore the fact that both the industry and regulators have learned much from mistakes in the past.

As I have learned, WA has some of the world’s strictest environmental rules when it comes to fracking. For instance, would-be explorers must document all the chemicals they plan to use prior to an operation.

Many of the chemicals used might sound dastardly until you realise they might well be listed on packaging for items in your freezer. This is because today’s explorers have learned to use safer chemicals more efficiently.

And there is no doubt that high pressures involved place great strains on the concrete casings used isolate aquifers penetrated by drilling. Sometimes in the past these have failed, but new techniques and materials make them much safer.

Often we hear that leaking gas impacts on water quality whereas, in many cases, the biggest risk is at the wellhead when gas is simply lost to the environment.

These are two very different problems with massively different risks – the contamination of drinking water compared to the emission of greenhouse gases – yet they are constantly are muddled in together for propaganda purposes.

No matter how many pictures you might see of flaming taps, it is very hard to find proven examples of water contamination in Australia.

Perhaps more common is leakage at the wellhead into the atmosphere. While the incidents involved still remain small on a percentage basis, according to the science I have read, that risk is much more about impact on climate change than health.

Tale of lust in WA?

I HAVE often promoted local authors because that is one of those parochial things you can do as columnist based in a state like Western Australia where getting noticed in literary circles is quite hard.

This week I make mention of a book, which may or may not have WA origins. I Told You I'd Make A Billion: A Tale of Lust, Greed and Corruption in the Australian Building Industry is a rollicking ride of read which sources close to the sector tell me could almost be more truth than fiction.

Whether or not the setting in the fictitious town of Bristol is really meant to be Perth is not entirely clear, and probably isn’t meant to be.

The book’s author is Lex Baker, a non de plume designed, no doubt, to add further mystique to this unusual novel – about the deliberate choice of a building magnate to take the path of corruption, especially in relation to the union movement in order to survive and prosper in this cutthroat sector.

My attention was recently drawn to the novel after I wrote about the building industry here.

ROLLICKING: Could the story have been set in Perth's building industry?

The novel certainly offers an interesting plot. A DIY plan by an ambitious builder, weighed down by insufferable union thugs, deciding that if you can’t beat them you might as well join them.

As it is the building industry, the words and plot are not for the faint-hearted. It is a very masculine read.

Personally, if I was going to take a stab at literary review, the book is held back by the author’s need to explain too much of the characters’ thinking or motivation; there seems to be a little impatience in the writing, a need to too often get to the point.

It’s the 1970s, it’s the building industry and it’s Australia: even though I was only a young lad then, I got the drift pretty quickly and I reckon most readers would too.

There is also plenty of political opinion in the dialogue that would reflect the self-made entrepreneur in a place like Perth. I grew up in such a household, so it was very familiar. I speak to these people every day and hear the same things.

That feeling of forever being drowned in a tide of indifference is captured well in this book. No matter how far the main character sank, he still seemed on higher ground than those who never questioned the morality of his actions and simply took what was on offer.

I wonder if anyone in the industry today might see shadows of themselves in this book.


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