Saturday, 26 December 2015


Community opposition to unconventional gas-mining has been rewarded by two victories in the last month.  However, there are still many areas of Australia which are under threat from this invasive and damaging industrySome areas - particularly in Queensland - are in full production with the impacts on the environment and landholders serving as a stark warning to places where full development has not yet taken place.

This post refers to two recent victories and to two areas where strong campaigns have been mounted to protect the land from fracking.

NSW Northern Rivers Now Gasfield Free

NSW Northern Rivers  campaigners against unconventional gas-mining are celebrating the departure of Metgasco, the mining company holding the remaining Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) in their region. The Metgasco Board had accepted a NSW Government offer to buy back the remaining PELs for $25 million but had to put the proposal to a shareholders' meeting.  On December 16 a majority of the shareholders accepted the deal.

This means that the Northern Rivers are now gasfield free, something community members have been working towards for years.  The campaign has seen confrontations at Glenugie (near Grafton), at Doubtful Creek (near Kyogle) and at Bentley near Casino and Lismore.  The strength of opposition grew steadily so that thousands were ready to oppose the arrival of the drilling rig at Bentley.  This, plus reduced majorities for local state government politicians in the election early in 2015- and the loss of the seat of Ballina - finally convinced the Coalition Government that the industry was not welcome.

Another Victory in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory Government was recently assessing an  application by Palatine Energy to explore for shale oil and gas across more than 10000 square km of Watarrka National Park about 300 km south-west of Alice Springs.  Fracking was on the agenda if the company got approval.  Watarrka, contains Kings Canyon gorge, which is a very significant tourist attraction in Central Australia.

The Northern Territory Government initially ignored formal requests by the traditional owners for the park to be protected from an exploration bid.  Consequently a group of traditional owners visited Canberra  in late November to ask the Federal Environment Minister for an emergency heritage listing for the National Park.  Following the traditional owners' trip to Canberra, the NT Government decided to reject the mining applications.  So the traditional owners and other NT community members concerned about unconventional gas-mining are celebrating a victory after a three year campaign.

Image used in the Watarrka campaign

Queensland's Channel Country Under Threat 

The Channel Country  in south-western Queensland is a sparsely populated arid area  of  floodplains and rivers which flow into Lake Eyre in northern South Australia.  The landscapes in this region are home to dozens of rare flora and fauna as well as an organic beef industry. Almost all of the Channel Country is covered by shale gas exploration licences.  Until 2013 there were strong legal protections to prevent fracking on the floodplains - a procedure which would be inevitable to extract the shale gas. However, these measures were abolished by the former Newman State Government.  The current Queensland Government promised to restore protection to the floodplains but so far has not honoured this promise.

If the protection is not restored, there are concerns that the region could be covered by 10,000 shale gas wells.  Because of the threat that this industrialisation of the landscape would bring to water resources and to the natural environment as well as to the beef  industry, a strong campaign is  being developed to force the Government to do what it has promised.

Western Australia's Kimberley Region Also Under Threat

The Kimberley region of northern Western Australia is a wonderful natural area visited by thousands of tourists every year. The area is covered by gas licences and a range of companies have plans to frack for unconventional tight gas with experts estimating that more than 40,000 gas wells could be fracked if the industry is allowed to proceed to full production.

A local group, Frack Free Kimberley, has been campaigning to get a moratorium on fracking in the region. Yulleroo Camp is one of the centre points of the campaign. Yulleroo, on Yawuru country, 70 km east of Broome, where Baru Energy plans to frack two wells, is the site of a protest by Yawuru Traditional Owner Micklo Corpus and his supporters. 

The area is important ecologically.  The wells are located at the head of internationally significant wetlands which flow into Roebuck Bay, a Ramsar listed wetland. Yulleroo is also home to an important population of threatened Greater Bilbies.