Gas exploration company tries to ease fracking concerns
A company exploring for tight gas in the WA’s Mid West has appealed to farmers to reconsider their opposition, stressing its operations are safe and its footprint small.
Perth-based Transerv Energy wants to carry out preliminary environmental surveys on land near Dandaragan, about 170 kilometres north of Perth, but some local farmers have refused access.
They argue the area has been earmarked as a possible agriculture hotspot under the WA Government’s $40 million “Water for Food” program, and the two industries do not mix.
But Transerv’s chief commercial officer, David Messina, has told the ABC the company already has a strong track record of working with landowners in the Perth basin.
It has operated for nearly a decade at its Warro gas field, 50 kilometres north of the controversial Dandaragan permit.
“What we’re doing is safe to the environment and safe to the water and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mr Messina said.
“It’s in nobody’s interests to threaten that precious resource we have here in Western Australia.”
Transerv Energy Chief Commercial officer David Messina says farmers and the unconventional gas industry can co-exist. (ABC News: Rob Koenig-Luck)
One of the key concerns for farmers is the gas extraction technique – known as hydraulic fracturing – used to release the tight gas from rocks about 2,500 metres under the surface.
The drilling at Warro has been funded by Alcoa, with the aim of securing long-term gas supplies for its alumina plants in WA.
Mr Messina said drilling at the Dandaragan permit could be years away and would hinge on the results from Warro.
“We do have a strong view that the Perth basin is going to be a very important and secure supply of gas to Western Australia and more importantly to Perth for the next 20 or 30 years,” he said.
Inquiry chairman calls for independent umpire
One of the industry’s biggest hurdles, apart from proving up the resource, is winning the public relations battle over fracking.
Three towns in the Mid West have declared themselves “unconventional gasfield free”, and another five communities have set up groups under the banner of the Frack Free Mid West-Gascoyne Alliance.
A two-year parliamentary committee inquiry into the implications of fracking produced its final report in November last year.
It found community concerns could be addressed through robust regulations and monitoring.
But it also recommended a statutory body similar to the Queensland GasFields Commission be set up to oversee disputes between farmers and oil and gas companies.
The State Government said it had not ruled out that option and it would be examined by a working group.
But the inquiry’s chair, Liberal MP, Simon O’Brien, said he had been “underwhelmed” by the Government’s response.
“It was a clear recommendation of our committee that we needed an independent statutory authority to make sure that everyone’s interests were protected,” Mr O’Brien said.
“What we are primarily interested in is making sure we get it right so we don’t have a situation where farmers and their families feel threatened about what might happen.
“It’s needed so the Australian community is reassured that it is a level and fair playing field for everybody.”
Company says most farmers are supportive
Transerv Energy was part of a land access framework agreement negotiated by the industry with WA farming groups to ensure fair compensation for farmers.
The company said it could not access farmers’ land without an agreement in place.
But ultimately under the law, farmers had no right to deny access to petroleum title holders.
Ian Minty, who has been at the forefront of the Dandaragan protest, wants the right of veto.
“If we don’t want anybody on our land, we should be able to say so,” the 77-year-old farmer said.
Dandaragan farmer Ian Minty claims 95 per cent of farmers in the area are opposed to the industry. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
The company said 13 out of 20 farmers in the Dandaragan area had given permission for environmental surveys.
Mr Messina told the ABC if farmers did not want to provide access, the company would not pursue it.
“If you don’t have a cooperative partner or a cooperative landowner, it’s not a relationship that works for either the company looking for oil or gas or clearly the farmer,” he said.
Mr Minty said he would not be dropping his guard.
He claimed 95 per cent of farmers in the area were now opposed and presenting a united front.
“I would be delighted to see ‘Water for Food’ get up and go here,” he said.
“But who in their right mind is going to invest any money into infrastructure for irrigation with a gas company having the right to come in and trample over everything?”