South-west council group urges state government to maintain gas moratorium

SOUTH-West councils are urging the state government not to lift its ban on coal seam gas (CGS) exploration. 

All six of the region’s Great South Coast municipalities met for roundtable talks last week in Portland and are supporting the government’s moratorium on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — to extract CSG. 

At least one company is looking to extract gas in the south-west. 

Adelaide-based Beach Energy has exploratory permits for areas near Casterton. However, the ban, imposed in 2012, will remain in place until at least July 2015. 

Great South Coast chairman Chris O’Connor said the group would not support CSG mining until there was scientific assurances it would leave the south-west’s prized agricultural land unharmed. 

“We’ve got a group of councils with slightly varying attitudes to coal seam gas,” Cr O’Connor said.

“Our main priority is making sure that our natural assets and our agriculture is protected and at this stage we’re not convinced,” Cr O’Connor told The Standard. “We don’t have a closed mind ... we’re seeking further information.” 

Last week the state government launched its community consultation scheme and will begin a scientific study to examine the possible impacts of the onshore natural gas industry on Victoria’s surface water and groundwater. There are 15 current mineral exploration licences in Victoria that cover coal seam gas and another 11 that cover shale and tight gas. 

Fracking is a potential headache for the government, with a number of MPs such a Deputy Premier Peter Ryan from rural seats where opposition to mining is gaining strength. 

Cr O’Connor met with Energy and Resources Minister Russell Northe in Melbourne last week to explain the Great South Coast Group’s concerns.

“He assured me that their position was similar to ours,” Cr O’Connor said. 

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