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WA government set to announce decision on gas fracking in WA Kimberley Mid West and Pilbara

WA government set to announce decision on gas fracking in WA Kimberley Mid West and Pilbara

He said the peer-reviewed report was a balanced consideration of complex and sometimes contested scientific material.

Premier Mark McGowan, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson and Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston are expected to outline the government’s response afterwards.

The government is expected to allow fracking in the Mid West, Pilbara and Kimberley and is likely to face enormous backlash.

Three unions attended a recent anti-fracking rally in Perth: United Voice, including chief executive Carolyn Smith who is also President of WA Labor; the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union; and the Maritime Union of Australia.

The McGowan Government also faces a revolt from several of its own backbenchers who were reportedly briefed on the issue on Monday night by Dr Hatton.

ALP insiders told The Australian the issue had divided caucus and there was deep anger.

Kimberley and Swan Hills MPs Josie Farrer and Jessica Shaw have already publicly broken ranks to call for a ban.

The protest campaign is backed by Australian scientists and experts including WA Scientist of the Year Peter Newman, 2003 Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, former premier Carmen Lawrence, former CSIRO atmospheric research team head Graeme Pearman and Climate Council chief Tim Flannery.

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It is also backed by public figures including Paul Kelly, Jimmy Barnes, John Butler, Peter Garret, Missy Higgins, Tim Winton and Janet Holmes a Court.

Weekend reports the Premier was about to open up the Kimberley to fracking prompted a strong reaction on Monday.

In Broome, more than 250 people turned out with just 24 hours’ notice to protest at Entrance Point beach. There were further demonstrations on Monday night at Parliament House and in Geraldton and Exmouth.

Four Kimberley Aboriginal groups are now officially opposed to fracking on traditional lands including Nyul Nyul, Nyikina Mangala and Ngurrara, though the Yungngora group is reportedly pro-fracking because it wants jobs for its at-risk young people.

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The Pastoral and Grazers Association supports gas companies’ access to natural resources in negotiation with farmers, but the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association called for veto rights.

The Conservation Council of WA on Monday released the contents of a letter received from Premier Mark McGowan during the 2017 election campaign outlining election commitments, quoting the 2016 WA Labor platform.

“WA Labor […] will conduct a public inquiry to examine environment, health, agriculture, heritage and community impacts (including full analysis of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions) prior to any fracking activity,” it said.

“WA Labor will place a moratorium on the use of fracking until such an inquiry can demonstrate that fracking will not compromise the environment, groundwater, public health or contribute adversely to climate change.”

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CCWA president Piers Verstegen said Environment Minister Stephen Dawson had told parliament in 2017 the inquiry considered only direct greenhouse gas emissions from fracking.

He said this meant the inquiry was likely to have underestimated the climate impacts of fracking by up to 90 per cent.

“The majority of pollution from fracking occurs indirectly when the gas is burned to generate heat or energy (indirect emissions),” he said.

“Pollution from conventional LNG production in WA is already preventing Australia from meeting Paris Agreement pollution targets.

“Conservation groups are urging Premier Mark McGowan to uphold his election commitments to undertake a ‘full analysis of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions’ from fracking.”

Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said Kimberley residents felt a ban in the South West but not the Kimberley — an equally desirable and precious tourism destination — meant they were being treated as second-class citizens.

“The people don’t want it, the unions don’t want it, the ALP State Executive don’t want it,” he said.

“Why make such an unpopular decision when there’s unlikely to be any gain for years, especially at a time when we’re supposed to be reducing carbon emissions not increasing them?

“Passions are running high in the Kimberley and the McGowan Government will be dogged by any decision to allow fracking in the region for the rest of their term.

“This is going to be very unpleasant for the Premier if he pushes fracking here, just like James Price Point was for Colin Barnett.”

The Greens have threatened to introduce legislation if a statewide ban is not written into law.

Greens MP Robin Chapple said that he would give notice of motion to introduce a Bill by the end of the parliamentary sitting year unless the Labor Party committed to a legislated ban.

“To lift the moratorium on fracking would be an act of environmental vandalism,” he said.

“The IPCC report says that we have 12 years to halt the worst aspects of climate change, and meanwhile we have seen this government double down on oil and gas, and they are now on the verge of allowing our state to be fracked.

“Any attempt at a strong climate policy would be blown out of the water if fracking were allowed in WA. Renewable energy is cheaper and cleaner, and it is available right now.”

A report from European researcher Climate Analytics released earlier this year said that to exploit all the gas leases in the Kimberley alone would make it impossible for Australia to meet its emission reduction target under the global Paris agreement.

The Institute for Financial and Energy Analysis’ Bruce Robertson has been quoted saying fracking in WA will drive up domestic gas prices to above global parity.

More to come

Emma Young is a Fairfax Media journalist based in Western Australia, breaking news with a focus on science and environment, health and social justice.

Nathan covers state politics for WAtoday. He is a former editor of the Mandurah Mail, where he also covered politics for Fairfax’s regional titles.

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