Greens' Inquiry Into fracking in SE recommends fracking should not proceed
November 30th, 2016
On the 30th Novemebr 2016, Mark responded to the Report from the Natural Resource Committee relating to the Greens' initiated Inquiry into Unconventional Gas in the South East of South Australia.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I would also like to congratulate the Natural Resources
Committee on the huge amount of work that they have done over two years in investigating this
issue. It is a substantial report, but I would be telling an untruth if I said that I had read it from cover
to cover, as we only got it yesterday. It is a substantial body of work, and I am going to read the
whole of the report and have a look at all of the findings as well as the recommendations that the
committee has come up with, but at first blush it looks to be a comprehensive piece of work.
The Hon. John Dawkins alluded vaguely to some of the origins of this committee, and I will
not pretend that I was not a bit disappointed early on when I had a plan for very extensive terms of
reference. It was going to be a select committee and I was going to be on it. In the end, we sometimes
need to swallow our pride in this place, I accepted that what the residents of the South-East wanted
was a parliamentary inquiry; they were not overly fussed about the terms of reference. These are
things that occupy the minds of members of parliament rather than members of the community, and
whether I was on it or not I do not think kept too many people in the South-East awake at night. So,
in the end, my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks moved the amendments that saw a successful
motion get up.
The inquiry was conducted by the Natural Resources Committee, but what I will say is that
even back then I had a degree of confidence that the chair of the committee, the Hon. Steph Key,
from another place is a fair chair, and I did not really doubt that if people came along with evidence
that was useful to the inquiry that there would be no standing on ceremony and throwing people out
because they were not closely following the terms of reference. Ultimately, we got a broader inquiry
than the terms of reference might suggest, but the primary focus was still on the South-East of the
The residents of the South-East had been working for a number of years through a number
of different forums to secure this inquiry. I have mentioned in previous speeches in this place that
every local council that forms part of that South-East regional group of local councils had called for
either a ban, a moratorium or a parliamentary inquiry, so in that light I think the inquiry was certainly
worth conducting. I think many people down there are now going to be applauding the response of
the Liberal Party in having announced the moratorium, but I will come to that in a second.
As was mentioned by the Hon. John Dawkins, I attended a number of the hearings. I have
not worked out whether it was more than half or less than half. Maybe it was about half, but I certainly
went on one of the field trips to the South-East, and I appreciated the fact that whilst not being a
formal member of the committee I was made very welcome by those members. I heard first-hand a
lot of the evidence that locals gave. I think that the summary, as we have heard before from the
Hon. John Dawkins and the Hon. Rob Brokenshire, is accurate. Ordinary folk, famers and also
industry stakeholders—except those in the mining industry—basically were very nervous about what
fracking might mean for their district.
I think there was a groundswell of community opinion against fracking, and in fact even a
casual drive through the district to count the number of yellow triangles on gates, where the owners
declared that they will 'lock the gate' if mining companies were to turn up, showed that they dominated
the landscape. I know that having attended, I think, three of the community ceremonies down there
that in most districts the numbers of landholders who were supporting the Lock the Gate campaign
were over 90 per cent in almost every case. What is good about local campaigns is that these are
people who know their neighbours. They knock on every door and they ask people what they think,
and I have no doubt that the overwhelming sentiment in that community was against fracking.
I made a submission to the inquiry. My submission was entitled '21 things I learnt about
fracking on my trip to the USA in 2015.' Being a Greens member of parliament, and fond of recycling,
I knew that I would be making a submission to the inquiry, so I made a special effort with my travel
report. If members remember back in the day when we used to have a travel allowance, we would
have to write a report on how those funds were spent. I put a quite substantial report together in
relation to my trip to Pennsylvania and New York state, and I knew that I could rejig that to be, not
just a report to satisfy our auditing requirements, but also the basis of a good submission to the
Natural Resources Committee.
In the interests of time, this potentially being the last week of parliament, I will not go through
all of the 21 things that I did learn. As tempting as it is to revisit that trip and the lessons that were
learnt—all 21 of them—I will just mention a couple of things. One of them is that, if members ever
doubt that the film you sometimes see in documentaries of people setting fire to taps—opening a
faucet, as the Americans call it—opening the faucet, putting a match to it and seeing flames come
out, if anyone doubts that that is not genuine, I suggest they ask Mr Troy Bell, the member for Mount
Gambier, because he was part of an experiment that involved capturing some gas that came out of
a garden hose.
The gas was captured in a jar. The jar was sealed and then ceremoniously opened with a lit
match nearby. Whilst my photography skills were not quite good enough to actually capture the
flames, my recollection is that they were at least 60 centimetres high coming out of this jar into which
gas had been collected. I am sure the—
The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting:
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The Hon. Rob Lucas seems to think that 60—
The Hon. R.I. Lucas: I said it was huge.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: That is right—I thought he was doubting that 60 centimetres was
significant (two feet in the old language). All of the submissions that the committee took are up on
the website and I would urge people to have a look at my submission. What I do want to do, very
quickly, is go through a couple of things that are said in the report. If we look at the recommendations,
the first recommendation, which the other two speakers today have referred to, is:
1. Without social licence, unconventional gas exploration/development should not proceed in the
South East of South Australia. The committee found that social licence to explore/develop unconventional gas does not yet exist in the South East of South Australia.
I think it is important that that was put as the first recommendation. 'Social licence or consent' is a
phrase that has had quite a few outings this year in relation to this issue, certainly, but also in relation
to nuclear waste dumps, where the Premier made it very clear that something as substantial as that
could not occur without community consent. It does not have community consent and it is my great
hope that the Premier will, sooner rather than later, abandon the folly of the nuclear waste dump.
The second recommendation relates to the actual impact of hydraulic fracturing on the
environment, and in particular on groundwater. The committee pointed out that the fracking process
itself if 'properly managed and regulated, is unlikely to pose significant risks to groundwater', but
there are some major caveats in that. First of all, it has to be properly managed and regulated. The
committee goes on to say that:
…other processes associated with unconventional gas extraction, including mid to long-term well integrity
and surface spills, present risks that need to be properly considered and managed.
I would have to say that it is the issue of surface spills that was probably the dominant issue in terms
of environmental impacts in the United States. If members wonder how much water might be involved
and if it can really pose a risk to the environment, I can give you a couple of basic statistics: the total
amount of toxic wastewater produced by the fracking industry in the United States in one year, the
year 2012, was 280 billion gallons.
That water has to be treated and has to go somewhere and what we found too often was
that it ended up in drinking water supplies, it ended up in local creeks and rivers. The disposal of
wastewater is a serious problem. People might think that fracking for gas does not use that much
water. The language that is used around this in the United States is interesting. They talk about 'highvolume fracture stimulation', and the 'high-volume' refers to the high volume of water that is used.
I have a photograph which I took in Pennsylvania and submitted to the inquiry. It is of a sign
outside a fracking production well and it identifies how much water they are allowed to use. The
amount for peak day consumptive use was 4.990 million gallons per day. If we translate that into
metric, 20 million litres of water per day is the maximum that they are allowed to use. When you
consider that in the United States there are 82,000 wells, all of a sudden you get some idea of the
scope and extent of this industry and the potential problem.
One of the other points the Hon. John Dawkins made, and it is in recommendation No. 5, is
that the committee notes—and these are my words, not those of the committee—that the economics
are a bit dodgy. In fact, the committee points out that the window of opportunity for a South-East
South Australian unconventional gas industry may already be closed. In other words, whatever the
economics might have been some years ago, the environment may now be such that it is no longer
economic. That is certainly the experience of the United States.
I want to add my thanks to the people involved in this inquiry. In particular, I thank Patrick
Dupont and Barbara Coddington, who were the staff to the inquiry. I also want to give a special
acknowledgement to those people in the South-East who embraced this parliamentary inquiry, took
it seriously, made detailed submissions, attended the hearings and, generally, kept the committee
on its toes to make sure that it did hear a variety of views. I would especially like to thank and
acknowledge the work of the Limestone Coast Protection Alliance and also the Lock the Gate
It is always difficult to single out individuals because the rule is you always leave an important
person out, but I will throw caution to the wind and at least identify one person who has been
important in this process, and that is Anne Daw. She has been a tireless campaigner for the local
environment and the local community, and I have been particularly grateful for her many
communications with me in terms of the latest research on this issue.
The next step in this process is that we need to have a look at what the Liberal Party has
done with their moratorium, and to work out whether we can do better. The Greens certainly believe
we can. I gave notice earlier today of my intention to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Petroleum
and Geothermal Energy Act. That act covers drilling for gas and oil, and my intention is to bring back
to this parliament a slightly different proposition to the one that the Liberals have adopted as policy.
The Liberal policy is for a 10-year moratorium on fracking in the South-East. The Greens' bill
takes that slightly further. What we say is that we should do as the Victorian government has done
and rather than keep people's hopes alive with a moratorium, we should basically say that there will
be a ban and that ban should extend to all of our high-value farming areas, to all of our conservation
estate, and also to the places where people live: so, residential areas. People might think, 'Well, not
much chance of fracking in a residential area', but have a look at the outer suburbs of Sydney. The
industry has its eyes on many areas.
People might think that gas in South Australia is just about the Cooper Basin and the
South-East, but have a look at where the petroleum exploration licences are. They start just north of
Adelaide, they go right through the Mid North, they are all over Eyre Peninsula, and they go up to
Port Pirie. There are plenty of places that this industry has its eyes on, and as knowledge develops
and technology develops it would not surprise me if we get companies wanting to frack in places
other than the South-East.
So, I will be giving this parliament a chance to have a look at extending the idea of this
moratorium so that it protects our farmland, our conservation land and residential land. The Cooper
Basin is an interesting case. Certainly they say that they have been fracking for decades, and they
say there has been no problem. The data to support that, I think, is quite sparse, but I do accept that
there is a problem with extending a ban to that area straightaway, because closing an industry down
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Even though I am being baited mercilessly by members of the
Liberal Party, what I will say is that whilst the days of fossil fuel extraction are numbered, the idea of
closing down the Cooper Basin overnight is not something that I am proposing to put on the table. I
think we should start by protecting farmland, conservation land and residential land. I will conclude
with a reflection on something the Hon. Rob Brokenshire said.
The Hon. S.G. Wade interjecting:
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: No, I am reflecting in a positive way. I think he referred to
SACOME, the chamber of mines, and without verballing the honourable member, he thinks that they
kicked a bit of an own goal by not engaging in the process. It was interesting to see their tweet last
night as it came out in response to the Liberal Party announcement. The tweet basically says that
the 10-year hydraulic fracturing moratorium policy announced by the Liberal Party is 'surprising,
reactive leadership'. I must admit I had to read those words several times to try and understand what
they are, so I tweeted back to the chamber of mines:
Reactive leadership? You mean reacting to the views of the local community? How undemocratic.
The Hon. R.I. Lucas: You told 'em, Mark!
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Whilst I expected the love affair between the party of blue and
green might be very short-lived, I do accept that the Liberal Party has come a little way along the
The PRESIDENT: Order!
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: —to joining the Greens' position, and I invite them, when my bill
comes up in February, to have a serious look at whether this moratorium might better be reflected in
a permanent ban that covers areas beyond just the South-East of South Australia. With those brief
remarks, I also endorse the motion to note this report.
printer friendly version