A GROUP of concerned community members and landholders has formed an organisation to push for better research into the impact exploration for tight gas will have in the Eneabba and surrounding regions.
To the consternation of the group the Environmental Protection Authority has decided that no environmental assessments are required for planned exploration of Arrowsmith and Woodada (Lake Logue area).
Though coal mining of these areas was stopped by the EPA for a range of environmental reasons, according to the group the EPA has no qualms about allowing mining companies to conduct ‘proof of concept’ surveys of the areas without the need for EPA assessment.
The Lake Logue-Indoon system is an important feeding and refuge area for waterbirds and Lake Logue is protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
There are also international agreements that may increase the natural heritage value of the area including the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species to prevent migratory birds becoming endangered.
Kwongan Heath areas in reserves around Eneabba are some of the most environmentally diverse in the world – only one other is in South Africa and a complete moratorium on exploration is in place there.
According to an EPA bulletin on gas fracking produced last year, the EPA is only required to be involved in decisions about fracking operations: “If an activity is proposed in or within 500 metres of an environmentally sensitive area, or if a proposed activity is within two kilometres of a town site, the coastline or likely to impact a water resource area (including a water reserve, water catchment and groundwater protection area and declared or proposed water supply catchment area).”
These distances may seem insufficient reason to evade full EPA assessment since a fracking accident in Pennsylvania last year saw more than 20,000 litres of chemical-laced fluid overflow containment walls and come within reach of the tributary of a prized trout fishing stream.
In the case of exploration, the EPA is even less likely to require an assessment, leaving it in the hands of the Department of Mines, who have their own environmental management requirements: “In recent determinations that the EPA would not assess a series of referred proposals, the EPA formed the view that, as the proposals were small scale ‘proof of concept’ proposals, they were not likely to have a significant impact on the environment.
“Further, the EPA considered that any potential impacts could be managed through the implementation of Environmental Management Plans that will be regulated by the Department of Mines and Petroleum.”
The apparent lack of concern at the exploration level has left some residents fuming given the potential impact on the environment and agricultural activities.
The group has urged the government to carry out more research into the potential impacts of the fracking process before any further activities are begun.