Bills: Petroleum and Geothermal Energy (Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing) Amendment Bill

Wednesday July 04, 2018

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (10:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce this bill; however, before I begin I would like to signal my displeasure at the limited time a private member has to introduce legislation in this chamber. For reference, when the government introduces legislation, both the lead speaker and opposition lead speaker are allocated unlimited time for second readings, yet when I do so as an independent I am limited to 15 minutes, as are other private members. It is outrageous and a serious slight on our democratic processes, especially when we consider that an hour is allocated to private members' bills yet I am restricted to 15 minutes.

Due to limited time, I have condensed a detailed second reading into the main parts, but there is much more to discuss. I offer whatever briefing any MP requires because this is a limited contribution on an important piece of legislation for my community and I cannot get into the detail that I would have liked due to time constraints.

I am going to skip over how we got here and focus on two critically important aspects, the first being the Natural Resources Committee inquiry into fracking in the South-East and the second is the notion that there is no evidence that fracking can do any harm. The Natural Resources Committee inquired into potential risks and impacts in the use of hydraulic fracture stimulation (fracking) to produce gas in the South-East of South Australia, and after two years of deliberation the committee handed down its findings. It is very important to point out that this committee was chaired by a Labor member and dominated by the Labor government of the day, who were very vocal and supportive of fracking and the fracking industry. I will now read from an executive summary of that final report and, again, this is condensed:

… what the committee has repeatedly come back to is the community at the centre of this inquiry and thus to the question of social licence, namely: does the social license to operate exist that would allow the development of an unconventional gas industry in the SE of South Australia?

Social license was invoked in many submissions to the inquiry and by a number of witnesses appearing before the committee…

After considering all the evidence available to it, particularly the definition of social licence provided by the Member for Mount Gambier, the committee has reached the position that social licence does not yet exist for the development of an unconventional gas industry in the South East. This has been made starkly apparent by widespread opposition from the local community. This is not vehement or violent opposition; it is peaceful and determined opposition, and it is occurring in spite of there having previously been a conventional gas industry in the South East which has undoubtedly provided significant benefits including employment to the local community.

The vast majority of the submissions and representations the committee received were anti fracking in the South East. Essentially the only submissions in favour of unconventional gas development were from companies and lobbyists engaged by or heavily involved with the oil and gas industry.

None of the pro fracking representations, written or verbal, came from representatives of the South East. The committee made an effort to understand from the perspective of local people and businesses what the economic benefits may be, but despite repeated invitations and approaches to bodies we felt might represent this aspect of the debate, there were no witnesses forthcoming. The committee was actually somewhat surprised that no regional residents or businesses approached us, even in confidence, to express support for the development of an unconventional gas industry in the region…

At the beginning of this inquiry, the NRC saw its responsibility as recommending whether to frack or not to frack but by the end, although members have their views on the subject, the committee felt that ultimate responsibility rests not with the committee but with industry, government and community, to decide in concert. This inquiry has provided a forum for the issue to be discussed and the NRC has encouraged all stakeholders to have their say.

It was signed by the Hon. Steph Key MP, Presiding Member, on 29 November 2016. The Natural Resources Committee went on with a number of recommendations, and the first recommendation on the list was as follows:

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.

Even though this committee was dominated by the Labor Party, it was the Liberal Party that publicly proposed a 10-year moratorium on fracking in the South-East. I know this because I was involved in many party room discussions, which I will not go into here. On the same day, 29 November 2016, the Financial Review stated:

Mr Marshall said if the Liberal government won the next state election on March 2018, it would put in place a 10-year moratorium on fracking in the south-east of the state in a region with rich farming land and a large agricultural and cattle grazing sector. It also hosts dozens of award-winning wineries in the Coonawarra region.

'It makes no sense to put this highly productive region and South Australia's enviable clean and green reputation at risk by opening up some of our best farming land to fracking,' Mr Marshall said.

On 15 June 2018, just a couple of weeks ago, the Limestone Coast Local Government Association, which includes the seven council areas included in this legislation, moved a motion to 'support the member for Mount Gambier, Troy Bell, in his calls to amend The Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000'. This was unanimously supported. Our councils are supporting this 10-year ban and our community is supporting this 10-year ban, and the legislation is very restrictive to the South-East.

Today, I am going to address the other main comment you hear from politicians—in fact, I heard it on the way in here from a friend of mine—that there is no evidence. If you say something over and over again people start believing it; in fact, some start believing it themselves. I would have spent the majority of my time on this aspect because this is one of the critical elements. Apart from social licence, which I think the inquiry and community leaders have covered, this is the crux of the issue.

I will state right from the start that I am no expert in this field. I hold no qualifications and, apart from firsthand experiences whilst on two fracking tours of America, I am no expert and do not profess to be. So I went looking for peer-reviewed articles that are both positive and negative on shale and tight gas. For those who do not know what 'peer reviewed' means, I offer the following explanation. Essentially, the term 'peer review' is an academic term for quality control.

Each article published in a peer-reviewed journal is closely examined by a panel of reviewers who are experts in the article's topic—that is, the author's professional peers, hence the term 'peer review'. Reviewers look for proper use of research methods, the significance of the paper's contribution to the existing literature and the integration of previous authors' work on the topic and any discussion, including citations. Papers published in these journals are expert approved and the most authoritative sources of information for research papers.

I will now go through some papers from different sources that have been collated by physicians, scientists and engineers (PSE) who have collected and analysed hundreds and hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific literature. What I found interesting is that research continues to lag behind the rapid scaling of unconventional forms of oil and gas development.

There has been a surge of peer-reviewed scientific papers published in recent years. In fact, of all the available literature on the impacts of shale gas development, nearly 80 per cent has been published since January 2013 and over 50 per cent in just the past year and half; this was up until 2015. What this tells us is that the scientific community is only now beginning to better understand the environmental and public health implications of the unconventional gas industry.

There are hundreds and hundreds of these peer-reviewed articles. In 2009, there were six; in 2010, there were six; in 2011, there were 34 peer-reviewed articles; in 2012, there were 72; in 2013, there were 142; in 2014, there were 192; and six months to 2015, which is where this collation ends, there were 103. You can see that the scale of the number of articles peer reviewed is exponential.

The PSE analysed different subcategories, and I will go through those subcategories. The peer-reviewed publications on the human health dimensions of shale gas development—original research—indicate two broad parameters. One was an indication of potential public health risks or actual adverse health outcomes, for which there were 21 peer-reviewed articles, and the other was where there was no indication of significant public health risk or adverse health outcomes, for which there were four. This group was looking at both the positives and negatives of the shale and tight gas industry.

There was an indication of potential public health risks or actual adverse health outcomes in 58 studies. There was no indication of significant public health risks or actual adverse health outcomes in four studies. In peer-reviewed publications on shale gas development and water quality contamination, there was an indication of potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination in 33 articles, and there was an indication of minimal potential, negative association, or rare incidence of water contamination in 15 articles.

In peer-reviewed publications on shale and tight gas development and air pollutant emissions/air quality degradation, in original research there was indication of elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations in 30 peer-reviewed articles. There was no indication of significantly elevated or air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations in four peer-reviewed articles. To summarise their points:

For each topic we found that the majority of original research indicated substantial risks from shale and/or tight gas development on the outcome of interest. Scientific consensus is not yet achievable given comparison limitations due to differences in geology, geography, regulation, engineering, and other attributes, as well as methodological differences between studies. However, these results indicate that shale and tight gas development has known public health hazards and risks. Regulators, policy makers, and others who are charged with determining how, where, when and if the development of shale gas should be deployed in their jurisdictional boundaries should take these findings into account.

This is exactly what I am doing. Quite simply, we need the 10-year ban on fracking in the South-East because the work has not been done yet in the South-East. There are many differences between the South-East and the Cooper Basin: the geology, the fault lines, the population density, the use of settling ponds, aquifers, and on and on it goes. The 10 years give everybody the time needed to make informed opinions based on facts specific to the South-East.

In summing up, I note that the leader of the Labor Party has publicly stated that he is going to spend a considerable amount of time in opposition undertaking a listening tour. As I foreshadowed in my address in reply, I welcome the new leader of the Labor Party to the South-East. What he is going to find is that the community in the South-East is opposed to fracking. The real question is: what is his party going to do about it? Is he going to support this bill, or is he going to continue to turn his back on the people of the South-East and pretend to listen, having already decided, and oppose this eminently sensible bill?

If the Leader of the Opposition is genuine about listening, then here is his first test. To my previous colleagues, this debate is no longer about fracking or not fracking in the South-East. The community has already decided that. This debate is now about trust. If you say one thing before an election, you need to honour it after the election. There is not one person in the South-East who believes a ministerial direction is a 10-year ban on fracking. I will move that this debate be adjourned.