Fracking, coal seam gas ‘not legal any time soon’, Andrews insists

Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King has been challenged by the Andrews government after she suggested a Victorian was a significant barrier to solving the energy crisis.

King met with Victorian Energy and Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio on Thursday to discuss the crisis, after experts said Victoria could face a gas supply crunch next winter with the state’s Bass Strait reserves running low.

Commenting before the meeting, Premier Daniel Andrews insisted Victoria would not be overturning its ban on fracking, an environmentally controversial method of extracting coal seam gas by injecting high-pressure liquid into the ground. Contamination of nearby water supplies and soil as the biggest risk of fracking.

It is banned, Andrews said. Nothing anyone says will change my position on that. It’s not going to become legal any time soon.

Victoria has allowed conventional gas exploration and extraction – subject to the usual approval processes – since the middle of last year, but it legislated to permanently ban fracking and coal seam gas extraction in 2017.

Asked about the federal minister’s suggestion that Victoria’s ban should be lifted, Andrews said Victoria had, according to expert assessments, a very low likelihood that there are significant onshore conventional gas reserves.

So I just asked people who are commentators on these things to bear that in mind, he said.

No, we are not; we’re not going to frack our pristine agricultural land, our dairy country, our wine country, our pristine natural environment that doesn’t belong to one company, that belongs to all of us.

He warned Victoria’s agricultural land was critical to the state’s future and to the food and fibre industry, warning he wouldn’t jeopardise that.

Why you’d be putting fracking wells all throughout [Victoria], that is beyond me, Andrews said.

A moratorium was placed on all onshore gas exploration and development in Victoria in 2012 by Denis Napthine’s Coalition government. In 2017, the Andrews government passed legislation permanently banning fracking and coal seam gas extraction.

At the time, the government also temporarily halted the exploration and development of onshore gas extracted using conventional methods. But this ban was lifted in July last year after a three-year study, leaving only the ban on fracking and coal seam gas extraction in place.

King has irked some of her state and federal Labor colleagues by pointing to the possibility of an even bigger energy crisis in the future if controversial projects such as Santos’ Narrabri gas proposal in northern NSW did not go ahead.

Energy giant AGL had also planned a massive new gas import terminal at Crib Point, in Melbourne’s Western Port. This would have gone some way towards easing future supply concerns in Victoria, which is Australia’s largest user of gas on a per capita basis.

But the terminal proposal was knocked back last year on environmental grounds after the state government concluded that discharged chemicals would have had unacceptable effects on the environment.

The state government insists Victoria produces more gas than it uses, with the excess sent to other eastern states. Although experts have warned the state’s existing wells are running low, lifting the ban on coal seam gas would do nothing to help the current crisis, given it would take years to open new wells.

Andrews said the solution was to diversify supply so that the state was not dependent on any one particular type of energy, particularly the state’s rapid uptake of renewable energy.

Ultimately, the one thing we can all do that makes a massive difference is to have more renewables in our grid; more supply from renewable means that’s great for climate change action, he said.

Andrews also reiterated his strong support for a domestic gas reserve.

Our gas for our businesses and our households, he said. Reserve what we need for us and then sell what we don’t need to the world. It is just wrong; it makes no sense to me that [Australian] households and businesses are competing against the world.

A spokesman for King said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Commonwealth and state co-operation on resources issues relevant to Victoria.

A state government spokesperson said Victoria currently produces more gas and electricity than it uses, and the state is the source of most of the gas used on the east coast of Australia.

Victoria reopened its conventional gas industry in July 2021 and offshore gas development has continued in both State and Commonwealth waters over the last decade.

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