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October 18, 2016 Gas companies can frack off, say Victorians

What’s the story?

In a landmark decision, Victoria has closed its doors to the unconventional gas industry.

It’s believed that Victoria has significant untapped reserves of ‘unconventional gas’. With new technologies, these substances can be extracted from underground. They’re the darling of the electricity and power sector, with big industries in NSW and Queensland.

However these gases attract loads of controversy. For starters, getting them out of the ground is an invasive – arguably, violent – task. It’s done through hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as ‘fracking’ – injecting a water-chemical solution into underground rock at high pressure via holes drilled into the Earth.

fracking

There is no last word on the environmental safety of this process. Groundwater contamination is a major concern, as it can undermine an area’s ability to be used for food production, and impact the the health of local ecosystems. Critics also point out that investment in this emerging technology increases Australia’s (already heavy) reliance on fossil fuels, and slows the development of the robust renewables sector the world urgently needs.

There has been a moratorium on fracking in Victoria since 2012. In August this year, the Victorian Government established a permanent ban. In theory, this means that fracking will never take place in Victoria – a national first.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Resources Wade Noonan have indicated this outcome was a direct response to demand from communities.

Chloe Aldenhoven

Chloe Aldenhoven has been campaigning against coal and gas mining since 2012

People power

Chloe Aldenhoven is one of an army of people working to transition Australia’s energy landscape away from fossil fuels, including unconventional gas. The 27-year-old Political Science and Philosophy graduate began her activism as a volunteer on climate change campaigns while still at uni.

Now a community campaigner with grassroots activist network Friends of the Earth, she’s also the Western Victorian coordinator of Lock the Gate, the nationwide movement that’s spearheaded the mobilisation of communities against the encroachment of coal and gas projects onto the land they live and work on.

Chloe describes a sense of collective relief following Victoria’s fracking ban.

“This has been a huge win for communities across Victoria, who have been campaigning to stop unconventional gas for years. It’s been emotionally draining for many, but also an amazing experience for a lot of the communities who banded together on this issue.”

The cause has gained support from diverse sections of society – with conservationists, environmental action groups and farmers joining with traditional land custodians.

Aboriginal groups have been instrumental in campaigning against unconventional gas projects all over Australia. In the Northern Rivers of NSW, for example, the Githabul people were central to blockading against unconventional gas operations at Doubtful Creek, and in the NT, Aboriginal groups have been at the forefront of the campaign.

“In many places, the fight against coal and gas projects has brought new connections and understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians,” says Chloe.

fracking-protest

How many states will follow Victoria’s lead?

Chloe hopes that communities resisting unconventional gas development around Australia will now push even harder on the back of the Victorian decision. “If the State Government says Victorian agriculture and rural communities are too important to risk with unconventional gas, then why not [in other states]?”

Individual voices can be amplified by organising into movements resilient enough to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. “Sometimes environmental problems seem huge, even insurmountable… getting a ban on unconventional gas in Victoria seemed like an insane dream only a few years ago,” says Chloe.

“We will face big environmental problems in our generation, but we can also create solutions, and we should never give up on that possibility.”


Cover image: Quit Coal Victoria

Nicole Schild
works in creative arts and is a graduate of The University of Sydney