Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that his government will introduce a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing and all exploration and development of unconventional gas throughout the state.
Andrews said the fracing ban will be introduced to the state’s Parliament later this year. Until the legislation is passed, the existing moratorium on onshore unconventional gas exploration and development will remain in place.
Andrews went even further, saying his government also will extend the current moratorium on onshore gas exploration and development until mid-2020.
He said in the meantime extensive technical, environmental, and scientific studies on the risks, benefits, and impacts of onshore gas will be undertaken before a final decision on conventional work is made.
Andrews described the ban as “historic” and “a first for Australia” and “just common sense.”
He said, “Our farmers produce some of the world’s cleanest and freshest food. We won’t put that at risk with fracing. We have listened to the community and we’re making a decision that puts farmers and our clean, green brand first.”
A 2015 state parliamentary enquiry into the unconventional gas industry received more than 1,600 submissions, most of them opposing fracing.
Environmental groups are united in their applause of the government decision, but the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) has slammed the move, saying the government had played politics.
APPEA Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Roberts noted that every independent scientific inquiry confirms that, properly regulated, unconventional gas is safe.
“Activist fear campaigns can create confusion and uncertainty in the community, but our political leaders have a responsibility to rise above such campaigns and support an honest, factual debate. The decision is short-term politics that will leave Victoria exposed to unnecessarily high energy prices.”
The Australian Energy Council also lamented the move declaring it short-sighted and ignoring the important role gas will play in supporting renewables integration and reducing carbon emissions as the energy sector transforms.
The most surprising reaction to the ban came from the Labor government of neighbouring South Australia.
South Australia Treasurer and Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Tom Koutsantonis said he strongly believed that the approval or otherwise of gas exploration and extraction projects should be left to independent experts rather than to politicians.
Koutsantonis, a vocal advocate for unconventional gas exploration, said South Australia was open for business. “I encourage any exploration companies affected by this decision to consider coming to South Australia where the assessment and approval of projects is left to expert regulators,” he said.