One week after Australia’s energy ministers met to consider proposals to open up the national gas market, Victoria’s Labor government has announced a permanent legislative ban on coal-seam gas mining in the state.
The ban, a policy first in Australia, will be introduced to Victorian parliament later this year, the Andrews government said on Tuesday.
Until that time, it said, the current moratorium on unconventional onshore gas exploration and development would remain in place.
The decision, the government said, had been made based on the best available evidence, and in acknowledgment of the fact that the risks involved outweighed any potential benefits to the state.
It also follows the findings of a 2015 parliamentary inquiry into onshore unconventional gas that received more than 1600 submissions – most of them, the government said, in opposition to further CSG mining in the state.
And while this marks a policy first for Australia, it is not the first sign that the coal-seam gas industry is in strife in Australia.
Earlier this year, Australia’s biggest energy utility, AGL, announced that it would quit unconventional gas exploration and production as part of a move to accelerate the company’s focus on the “evolution” in the energy industry.
AGL managing director Andrew Vesey said at the time the decision reflected the volatile nature of commodity markets. Analysts suggested it was a recognition that AGL’s gas assets were relatively high costs and were not premium quality in a market for low oil and gas prices.
A major part of the Andrews government’s decision, meanwhile, was influenced by public opinion and concern for the environment.
“Victorians have made it clear that they don’t support fracking and that the health and environmental risks involved outweigh any potential benefits,” Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.
“Our farmers produce some of the world’s cleanest and freshest food. We won’t put that at risk with fracking,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.
The Andrews government said it also planned to legislate to extend the current moratorium on the exploration and development of conventional onshore gas until 30 June 2020, and to undertake “the most extensive scientific, technical and environmental studies in Australia” on the risks, benefits and impacts of onshore gas.
These would be overseen by an expert panel, headed by the Lead Scientist Amanda Caples, and would include farmers and industry, business and community representatives.
The measures have been welcomed by anti-CSG group Lock the Gate Alliance, which has called on COAG to follow Victoria’s lead and reverse its push for expanded gas mining.
“This outcome is a credit to the brave and determined farmers and community groups who have fought long and hard against risky gas mining, and it is reassuring to see that state governments are starting to listen to people and their demands to protect land and water resources,” said the Alliance’s Phil Laird.
“The (Victorian) ban… plus the promise by the incoming NT Labor Government to implement a moratorium on all shale gas activities, has left the recent COAG push for expanded unconventional gas mining in tatters.
“The federal government is woefully out of touch on this issue and the community has not been swayed by their confected gas supply crisis,'” Laird said.
“We’re calling on federal environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, to urgently visit communities threatened by gas mining across the country, reconsider his position, and respond in a similar fashion to the Andrews government,” he said.