OPPONENTS of unconventional gas exploration drilling across south-west Victoria have been confusing geology in their continuing campaigns aimed at protecting underground water supplies.
The fight by environmentalists and politicians has been focused mostly on coal-seam gas extraction which has been riddled with controversy in Queensland and NSW.
However, in south-west Victoria and for the rest of the state, coal-seam gas is not on the radar.
In fact, most exploration companies keen to explore their Victorian permit areas will be looking for what is known as tight gas in shale and hard rocks, which requires a less risky extraction method than in coal seams.
Opponents are correct in one aspect in that hydraulic fracturing of rock (fracking) is used in varying degrees to extract gas from both sources. The state government imposed a moratorium on fracking in 2012 which will remain until mid-next year.
The nation’s foremost scientific body, the CSIRO, yesterday provided The Standard with fact sheets showing the risk of water table pollution by shale gas extraction is much lower than with coal seam methods.
“The risk of contaminating agricultural and drinking water from shale gas extraction is very low in most cases, as fractures generated by hydraulic fracturing are deep under the earth.
“In coal-seam gas extraction, the risks of connectivity between surface aquifers must be more carefully managed.
“Although there are risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, scientific evidence to date from around the world shows us the risks with the technique itself are low when managed properly.”
Moyne Shire Council this week voted unanimously to call on delegates at this month’s Municipal Association of Victoria congress to oppose coal-seam gas exploration and extraction across the state.
The motion was led by mayor James Purcell, who is also highlighting coal-seam gas in his state election campaign running for the upper house seat of Western Victoria. He has called for “coal-seam gas fracking” to be banned outright.
Mr Purcell took aim at Lakes Oil, which is part-owned by mining magnate Gina Rinehart and has exploration permits extending from the South Australian border to Geelong and Gippsland.
Lakes Oil is confident of marketable reserves across the south-west as it seeks alternate sources to off-shore wells.
The company has acknowledged that opposition to fracking has come from perceptions of coal-seam gas operations. It stressed it would be involved only in tight rock and shale oil and gas production.
“Victorian brown coal is not mature enough to be considered commercially viable, so it is highly unlikely there will be any hydraulic fracking of coal-seam gas in Victoria,” the company said.
The CSIRO notes some concerns with shale gas production in extra demand for fresh water putting pressure on supplies for humans and agriculture, changes to landscapes ad impacts on rural communities.