THE region’s first anti-fracking meeting had a strong turnout last night with more than a hundred people filling St Brigid’s hall in Crossley.
Activist groups, Lock the Gate, Friends of the Earth and the Sustainable Agriculture and Communities Alliance are mounting a local campaign against fracking and coal seam gas, despite no plans by the state government to lift a ban on the mining method.
Groups are mainly targeting Beach Energy, which has exploration licences north of Casterton near Dergholm.
Beach is also involved with exploring gas reserves in a district including Curdievale, Garvoc, Panmure, Brucknell and Purnim.
Lock the Gate Victorian co-ordinator Chloe Aldenhoven said Beach Energy had begun drilling for shale gas, that involves fracking in Penola just over the South Australian border.
“If they’re planning on having commercial production of gas just over the border, they’ll try and extend those gasfields into Victoria,” she said.
Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals down a deep well to release hydrocarbon trapped in geological formations.
Opponents say it will risk contaminating the region’s aquifers and underground water reserves if carried out in the south-west.
“They (the state government) are going to lift the moratorium in July 2015 — six months after the election. The current moratorium is nothing but the Coalition government trying to suppress this as an election issue — they know it will change the vote of National voters,” Ms Aldenhoven said.
Environmental Defenders Office lawyer Tom Warne-Smith urged the audience to drag prospecting mining companies into the state’s top planning court.
He said landowners weren’t able to block companies but could “make it very difficult for them” by using the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
“Before a mining company can come on to your land you have to have a compensation agreement ... this applies at the exploration stage and the mining stage,” he said.
“If you say no amount is enough, in order for them to access your land they have to make a claim in the VCAT.”
He said VCAT would itself then decide how much the landowner was entitled to.
“For a mining company to take one person to VCAT it’s not a big deal, but if they have to take whole communities to VCAT it’s not economical for them.”