Lock the Gate on Fracking in the Southwest

The Margaret River Region lies right in the middle of one of the worlds 36 biodiversity hotspots. With over 7,500 plant species with half of those being found no where else in the world, it should come as no surprise that in 1 hectare of pristine bushland here in the southwest you could find more species than in the entire continent of Europe. The unique environment is accompanied by world class surf, artists creating in all forms of media, premium wines and gourmet food attracting around 2 million visitors annually who together inject over $1 billion into the local economy every year.

It is hard to believe that the Department of Mines and Petroleum would even consider an application for invasive gas exploration that could threaten land, water, air quality and existing industries, such as tourism and agriculture in this pristine part of the world. Although the hype has been amplified through effective campaigning by anti-fracking groups of recent, the exploration and extraction of gas in Western Australia has been underway for well over a decade.

So, what actually is fracking? Also know as hydraulic fracturing or hydraulic stimulation, fracking uses high pressure to fracture rock formations and push grit-containing fluids into the fractures to hold them open allowing the gas to escape. The sand/water slurry can include a range of chemicals with potential health consequences. Why are we bothering to extract unconventional gas? Under Australian land there are huge reserves of gas and their exploitation is seen as an answer to the depletion of conventional gas fields. It is also seen as a more environmentally friendly energy alternative when compared to coal.

fracking diagram

Diagram of fracking

What are the problems with fracking in the search of shale or tight (unconventional) gas? Firstly, fracking companies are not required, even by regulation, to disclose the chemicals they are injecting into rock deposits – not even to government regulators. One of the harmful chemicals known to be used in Australian fracking operations is BTEX. BTEX is a volatile organic compound that easily vaporises. It can cause leukaemia, reproductive problems and harm to unborn children. Another risk of fracking is the gasification of groundwater which can result in the water being unfit for human consumption. In the United States fracking fluids are returning to the water surface with radioactive materials, in particular Radium-226 which has an extremely long half-life of over 1,600 years. Additionally onshore gas mining companies are not required to disclose of where fracking is taking place meaning that there is no way to track onshore gas in Western Australia.

Cross section of the aquifers in Margaret River

Cross section of the geological and hydrological composition of what is below the surface of Margaret River

Our water and the Margaret River is keystone to the value of this area. The entire southwest region is hydraulically connected (see diagram above) due to underlying geological formations of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge and the Yilgarn Craton, a landscape crated over 220 million years. Approximately the top 10m below the surface comprises of the superficial aquifer which lies above the Leederville Aquifer (made up of the Upper Mowen, Lower Mowen, Upper Vasse, Lower Vasse and Yelverton Members) making up the next 100-200m, which is on top of the Sue Coal Measures (where the gas is), which lies upon the Yarragadee Aquifer which in some places flows over 2.5kms under ground. All of the water moves slowly between the aquifers. The Margaret River is one of the healthiest rivers in the entire of southwest of Western Australia. With a small catchment of around 40,000 square kilometres (Whicher Ranges), in the below video our managing director Gene Hardy explains the intrinsic connection between this river, our drinking water and the threats of fracking.

So, where are the current leases for coal seam gas in the Cape to Cape region? CalEnergy Resources, Whicher Range Energy and Bunbury Energy are businesses that all currently have permits for onshore gas exploration in the southwest. There are also current mining leases in the area of the map occupied by Whicher Range Energy.

Onshore gas permits in the southwest

Current onshore gas exploration permits in the southwest.

So, now you know the ins and outs of the intrinsic values of the Margaret River Region, onshore gas exploration and the potential threats to our fresh water supply, and we haven’t even touched the surface on some of the other potential consequences of gas exploration including inadequate indigenous consultation, encroaching on private land, exuberant use of our precious water and industrialisation in our pristine natural environment. What can we do to help create more awareness and ultimately cease any gas exploration and mining in the southwest? Luckily, there are already a few groups and individuals trying their hardest to get the message out of there. Check out the Lock the Gate Alliance and Frack Free WA. Next weekend the John Butler Trio is hosting a ‘Frack Off’ concert at 3 Oceans Winery in Margaret River. Click here to book your ticket now! Patagonia is currently undertaking an unbelievable initiative to encourage people to donate funds with the promise to match, dollar for dollar, to total amount raised. With only 15 days of the campaign left, click here to donate now!