THE state government's decision to lift the moratorium on onshore gas drilling was met with mixed response locally, with some welcoming the news and others questioning Victoria's reliance on fossil fuels into the future.
On Tuesday the government introduced two bills to State Parliament enshrining the historic ban on fracking and coal seam gas exploration in the state's Constitution and allowing an orderly restart of onshore conventional gas exploration from July, 2021.
The decision follows three years of detailed investigation by the Victorian Gas Program, which found an onshore conventional gas industry would not compromise the state's environmental and agricultural credentials.
The team behind the program were largely based at Warrnambool's Deakin University campus.
The investigation was overseen by Victoria's Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples, who chaired an independent Stakeholder Advisory Panel, including farmers, environmentalists, industry representatives and local councils.
The studies identified potentially significant onshore conventional gas resources particularly in the Otway Basin, which stretches across the border to South Australia where a productive industry has been established.
Corangamite Shire Council mayor Neil Trotter, who has long supported onshore conventional gas drilling in waters off the south-west coast, welcomed the news.
"We're quite pleased about it, we had interest in a couple of wells being drilled before the moratorium was put in place and now we can allow them to go ahead," he said.
"There's a big demand for power and at the present renewables aren't meeting the need so we still need to produce power by other means and gas is one of the means of doing that."
Cr Trotter said the gas potential in the basin was a driving factor in the council's decision not to join other councils and governments around the world in declaring a climate emergency.
"We've taken the view that it's easy to pay lip service to declare a climate emergency but it does have implications for policy making, especially for us with gas plants in the area," he said.
"If you're abiding by the intent of declaring a climate emergency you have to alter your policies as a result.
"We've taken the opportunity of doing quite a bit already to reduce carbon emissions in the shire but we would be paying lip service to declare an emergency when we're a gas producing shire."
Protect the West member Patricia Nesbitt said dependence on fossil fuels should be curbed, not increased.
"We can certainly curb our dependence on fossil fuels, we have the technology to adapt to renewable systems we just need the political will," she said.
"Fossil fuels are very finite, shouldn't we be using the remaining fossil fuels for producing equipment that we absolutely need and transfer to more renewable energies to heat our homes and drive our cars?"
"We have collected over 1000 signatures from Glenelg Shire to Corangamite Shire to maintain the moratorium, it's immoral to keep on drilling for fossil fuels and we're going to fight it until the end."
Fracking was banned in 2017.
At the 2018 election, Labor promised to put that ban in the Constitution - to make it harder for future Liberal and National governments to remove.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the decision would boost energy supplies and support regional communities, across the state.
"We promised to enshrine our historic ban on fracking in the constitution and we're delivering - to protect farming communities, and our huge food and fibre sector," Mr Andrews said.
Resources Minister Jaclyn Symes said three years of research had shown securing local gas supply for Victoria would not come at the cost of the state's groundwater supplies, agricultural industries or farming's clean and green reputation.
Production of Victoria's estimated resources could generate more than $310 million annually for regional economies and create 6,400 jobs over the lifespan of these projects.
Priority for any gas produced from future onshore production licences would be given to the domestic market - supporting local industry and consumers.
The moratorium on onshore conventional gas exploration and development was set to expire on 30 June this year.
A new wave of offshore gas exploration is expected to start this year off the south-west coast - where gas has flowed from for decades.
For a copy of the Victorian Gas Program Progress Report No.4, go to earthresources.vic.gov.au/gasprogram.
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