What is Fracking?
Fracking involves pumping millions of litres of water, sand and chemicals into a coal seam at high pressure to force open or fracture rock cracks, allowing gas to escape to the surface. This fracking mixture is then pumped out, along with a far greater volume of polluted water that occurs naturally in the coal seam.
The process of fracking causes the release of methane (which has 23 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide). It can also mobilise naturally occurring carcinogens — benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene, collectively known as BTEX — which are then carried to the surface in the produced water. The water pumped out is contaminated with salt, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and the added chemicals, and then it needs to be treated. It needs to be quarantined in storage ponds or returned into low quality seam beds. If any of this water finds its way back into surface or groundwater systems, it will contaminate the local water supply, including irrigation water.
This technique has been banned in France and in other countries and States in the USA.
In the USA it has created serious environmental issues after freshwater aquifers were polluted. New York has banned fracking as recently as December 2014.
Australia has seen an enormous explosion of coal seam gas wells in recent years. There are currently nearly 4,000 active exploration and production coal seam gas wells in Queensland and NSW. Shale Gas extraction is less common, but the industry has its eyes on the South East of SA.
There is much at stake for South Australians.
The Government's 'Roadmap for Unconventional Gas Projects in South Australia' released in December 2012 indicates that fracking is coming to an area near you. The roadmap earmarked potential locations for gas mining in the Lower, Mid, Upper and Far North regions, the South-East, Eyre and Yorke peninsulas, the West Coast and the Adelaide Hills — there isn’t much of the state left outside those areas.
This massive expansion of gas is occurring at a time when many of its long-term impacts are still unclear.
The potential for long-term adverse impacts on the environment, on agriculture and on public health is worrying. The CSIRO and the National Water Commission have stated that the impacts on underground water levels, the amount of emissions and long-term impacts on local environments and farmland are still poorly understood, and the National Toxics Network has raised concerns about the environmental and health risks linked to the chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing.
Preliminary research tells us that it will take up to 75 years for a gas site to recharge its previous groundwater volumes, but the impact of these practices on every site is different, and so a cloud really does hang over this industry and its impacts. Whether these impacts are permanent or temporary, it is a risk that we do not have to take. Of course, one aspect of this industry on which the jury returned a verdict long ago is the impact on the world's climate of the burning of fossil fuels.
Why would we expose our wine, fruit and vegetable industries and our cropping and grazing lands to these kinds of risks?
The Greens want to permanently protect South Australian farmers, urban South Australians and our natural environment from being subjected to this risky and unnecessary practice.
The experience interstate has shown that once the genie is let out of the bottle it is difficult to put back in again.
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