27/07/2015 - 06:10

No clean fight when words are dirty

27/07/2015 - 06:10


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In just a short time, fracking has gone from a little-known industry term to make its debut in the mainstream lexicon as a dirty word.

No clean fight when words are dirty

In just a short time, fracking has gone from a little-known industry term to make its debut in the mainstream lexicon as a dirty word.

A simple short-form term for the process known as hydraulic fracturing, it also sounds like a swearword, a convenience that is not lost on those opposed to this form of energy extraction – whether they understand it or not.

Attaching a sign saying ‘frack off’ to a farm gate says it all; a pun that skirts the fine line between presenting a strong image of concern and anti-social, no-development-at-any-cost nimbyism, depending on the viewpoint of the reader.

From experience around the world, though, it generally indicates close-mindedness to a technological development that offers significant cheap and relatively clean energy, which comes at a low environmental cost.

Opponents of fracking sit with genetically modified food opponents in having subscribed to the highest level of fear-driven propaganda without any significant evidence to back it up.

From this newspaper’s point of view this is especially the case in Western Australia, where the geological circumstances, sparse population, arid landscapes and long experience with resources extraction make it one of the most suitable locations for safe fracking.

Before we focus on WA, though, it is worth assessing the fracking landscape elsewhere.

In the US, this process – using hydraulic pressure via fluids, chemicals and physical devices to fracture rock underground and release trapped gas – has taken place for decades. In the past few years new technology, coupled with high oil prices, resulted in the US shifting from an energy importer to a potential exporter. That alone is incredible. More amazing is the way hundreds of thousands of wells have been fracked without any major lasting problems.

Despite propaganda films and myriad websites, it is impossible to find a significant proven environmental disaster caused by fracking.

In the main, these fearmongers focus on one key risk as if they were common occurrences – that drilling and extraction involve the penetration of aquifers, which can spoil potable or environmentally important water sources due to seepage of gas or leakage of chemicals.

Secondary considerations are: land clearing; truck movements; geological instability (tremors and earthquakes); water wastage; and unsightly infrastructure.

Significant scientific research (including by the environmental protection authorities of the US, UK and NSW) has examined the risk of water contamination and concluded that it is a manageable risk, as with any form of resources extraction.

Nowhere in the literature or even in the propaganda is a serious disaster identified. Due to the nature of fracking, where issues have arisen they are small, localised and historical, resulting from past practices where the impact was not understood as it is today. 

These days, technology has helped remove volatile chemicals from the fracking process.

WA comes late to the fracking party, so it has the good fortune to bypass many of the past poor practices of other jurisdictions. The state also has strict laws and a will to enforce them.

The state’s resources companies also have a strong grasp of the fundamentals of community relations and many have worked with alternative land users such as farmers over long periods. That is important, as farmers elsewhere have led opposition to alternative primary producers such as gas extraction from fracking.

Significantly, where fracking is most contentious is in coal seam areas where extraction is much closer to the surface and the water table than the deeply contained shale gas, which is predominant in WA.

Of course the opponents of fracking deliberately blur that distinction, using others’ ignorance as a weapon in their battle against development.

The resources industry and its state watchdogs have a strong track record of environmental safety in WA – there is no reason to believe that would be put in jeopardy in the hunt for energy that is cleaner than much of what we already consume.


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