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What the Frack?

Image Credit: Lock the Gate Alliance (Facebook: Creative Commons)

Last month, the Northern Territory lifted its 2 year ban on onshore gas fracking despite widespread opposition. The move ignited much debate regarding the future of Australian energy supply.

Fracking, also referred to as hydraulic fracturing, is a method used to extract natural gas from underground rock deposits. It is predominantly performed as an on-shore practise and relies on a fracking fluid comprised of water, sand and chemicals.

The unconventional practice could see Australia become the number one liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter by 2020. However, this comes at a sacrifice to environmental preservation and rural community fabrics.

The Turnbull Government has assured the nation that natural gas is integral to Australia’s energy security. Increasing energy supply through fracking is deemed the only solution to the east-coast gas ‘crisis’. NSW and Victoria’s moratorium on fracking has been blamed as the cause of the energy shortage and rising prices as Queensland’s resources are in high demand. However, former Greens’ leader Christine Milne claims no evidence has yet revealed that Australia is in a gas crisis. Rather, shortages are derived from excessive LNG exports to Asia.

Ensuring Australians have access to affordable energy sources is a priority for the Turnbull government to support economic growth. Currently, renewables comprise a mere 2.1% of the nation’s total energy production, compared to natural gas at 15.6%. However, the Australian National University has proven that solar and wind could replace all coal, oil and gas within two decades and cover less than 1% of the world’s land area. The CSIRO have concluded that renewables and coal and gas technologies will congregate to $50-100 AU per megawatt hour by 2030. Renewables are rapidly developing and present the nation with an affordable energy solution.

As highlighted in the American Environmental Protection Agency’s Hydraulic Fracturing Water Assessment Report, water sources are prone to contamination from fracking. Santos manipulated the inevitable uncertainty in scientific studies to claim that, “…there has been no evidence of hydraulic fracturing activities impacting shallow aquifers.” But what the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) claims are "very small" amounts of chemicals in their fracking fluids are actually 750 chemicals that include suspected and known carcinogens. When 7 to 15 million litres of water are used for each fracking event, the 0.5-2.0% chemical concentration becomes substantial. These chemicals pollute surface and ground water sources, threatening Australia’s water supply.

Whilst Federal Resources Minister Matthew Canavan deems the adverse environmental impacts "voodoo science", countries including France, Germany and Scotland have taken a strong stance and banned fracking.

The Northern Territory based its rebuke of the ban largely on the potential economic growth. However, the Government’s increase in revenue by $3.7 billion comes at a direct sacrifice to rural livelihoods. The CSIRO proved that that Queensland’s gas infrastructure reduced landholder revenue by an average of $2.17 million. The adverse mental effects from industrialising communities cannot be adequately quantified. The government needs to prioritise its people, but conservative politicians are not listening.

APPEA claims that Australia has enough gas to power a city of 1 million people over 16,000 years. However, Australia’s population is expected to reach 40 million by 2050. For 40 million people located in various cities, natural gas can only power the nation for less than 400 years. This is in the best-case scenario where all gas reserves exist, are accessible and none is exported.

Gas reserves are relatively scarce and economic growth from the industry will be short-lived.

Despite Santos’ claim that "natural gas plays an essential role in reducing carbon emissions", the oil and gas industry’s fugitive emissions amounted to 22 Mt CO2-e in 2017. According to the Melbourne Energy Institute, fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are actually under-reported by 10 to 20 times. Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas and should not be condoned at any level.

Fracking destroys precious water resources, communities and leads us closer to climate change. As Australia attempts to shift to a low-carbon economy we should not be investing in fossil fuels, period.

What the frack are we going to do about it, Australia?

Alexandra Devlin is the Climate Change and Energy Security Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.

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