A new environmental battleground is shaping up in Western Australia over the controversial issue of fracking. A small victory was won on August 20 when councillors from the Shire of Coorow, a group of small towns 250 kilometres north of Perth, voted unanimously to suspend all fracking activity in the area pending a full environmental assessment and public inquiry.
There has been increasing vocal community opposition to rapidly escalating gas developments in the mid-west region, close to the towns of Geraldton and Dongara, where a number of pilot holes have been approved close to water catchment areas. Plans to build a large scale gas project in the area in the next six to 12 months.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is a procedure of using heavy industrial boring equipment to inject a high-pressure solution of sand, water and untested chemicals in coal seam or shale gas deposits to release stored natural gas.
Sydney-based AWE is leading the industrialisation charge, drilling in the Irwin River area, east of Dongara as well as around the Eneabba area. It has plans to start widespread fracking in the area later this year once core samples have been analysed.
Norwest Energy also plans to frack in the Arrowsmith gas field north of Eneabba later in the year.
US oil and gas giant Halliburton is providing AWE with security, mining technology and support services for the projects.
The Drover-1 site east of Greenhead is the first horizontal fracturing project in Western Australia, an unconventional procedure that is far more environmentally damaging.
AWE reports a pilot hole has already been drilled and is being sampled. The borehole runs straight through an underground aquifer. Local farmers are reportedly worried about the borehole running through three fault lines and contaminating water resources used for agriculture.
AWE plans to begin horizontal fracking at this site in the next month. The company is also test drilling at Senicio-3 with plans to start fracking later in the year at the adjacent Senecio-4. Both sites are less than two kilometers away from a water catchment area which supplies the water for seven towns in the area.
Jo Franklin, senior coordinator for Frack Free Geraldton and Lock the Gate said AWE has made little attempt to consult the public. Community meetings were held during working hours and were “filled with AWE employees from out of town. AWE refused to answer public questions, only answering individual questions in private,” she said.