17/12/2014 - 11:06

New advice on fracking released

17/12/2014 - 11:06

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Community interest in the controversial practice of fracking has prompted Western Australia’s environmental watchdog to issue advice on how it will assess shale and tight gas proposals.

New advice on fracking released
Buru Energy is one of a handful of operators currently exploring for shale and tight gas. Photo: Buru Energy

Community interest in the controversial practice of fracking has prompted Western Australia’s environmental watchdog to issue advice on how it will assess shale and tight gas proposals.

The Environmental Protection Authority's advice indicated the watchdog would not assess all fracking proposals, rather just those which were likely to have a significant impact on the environment.

Additional criteria the EPA may apply in its decision to formally assess a proposal included the scale of the proposal, the effect on environmentally sensitive areas, or whether the proposal would impact drinking water sources or other water supplies.

In September, the Department of Mines and Petroleum said it believed commercial unconventional production of oil and gas using fracking was still up to 10 years away.

However, EPA chairman Paul Vogel said a high level of community interest, as well the possibility of a referral for a development proposal in the next few years, had prompted a need to outline the EPA’s expectation of companies that proposed the use fracking techniques.

The advice released today is an update to information issued in 2011.

Dr Vogel said the new advice reflected how the industry had developed in WA in terms of shale and tight gas, which requires hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to open cracks in rocks and release gas flow by pumping high-pressure liquid and other materials.

While the US economy has been transformed by a boom in ‘unconventional’ production, only six shale and tight gas wells have been drilled in WA’s Canning and Perth basins since 2005.

No commercially running flows have occurred from any of these.

Operators in WA exploring for shale and tight gas include Buru Energy in the Canning Basin, while AWE, Key Petroleum, and Norwest Energy are operating in the Perth Basin.

Dr Vogel said EPA’s updated information defined the circumstances under which the EPA would assess proposals requiring fracking, and set out its expectations on the information required to conduct a thorough environmental impact assessment.

“There is great interest in the community about the potential environmental impacts and risks of hydraulic fracturing, the regulation of this activity and the knowledge base of the hydrogeology of the target area,” he said.

“It is essential that in preparing for the potential future referral of a larger-scale trial or full production-scale proposal, that the studies undertaken and information provided to the EPA are robust and sufficiently comprehensive to enable a thorough assessment of the environmental impacts and risks.”

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association welcomed the EPA's announcement today, saying it demonstrated confidence in the state's ability to safely regulate the emerging shale and tight gas industry.

“The EPA has now outlined a pragmatic and responsible approach to the approval of more advanced projects based on a comprehensive and scientifically-based assessment of risk,” APPEA chief operating officer western region Stedman Ellis said.

“In doing so, it has clearly rejected the alarmist view that shale and tight gas projects cannot be developed safely.

“Instead, the EPA has effectively said that new proposals should be considered on their merits and, if approved, be required to operate in accordance with strict regulations.”

 

 

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