What is the Truth?
The truth is that exploration activities, properly regulated as they are in Victoria, are totally safe, whether conventional or unconventional in nature.
Community anxiety, to the extent it exists, has been stirred up by fanciful stories about possible problems with:
• Hydraulic stimulation (frac-ing), based mainly upon blatant falsehoods in the movie ‘Gasland’. Journalist, Pelim McAleer, has documented the deceit of Gasland and its creator, Josh Fox.
• Coal seam gas. The fact is, there is no commercial potential for coal seam gas in Victoria owing to the low rank (or quality) of Victorian coal. Concerns about coal seam gas are patently misguided.
What are conventional and unconventional exploration/production activities?
The way these terms are presently used, conventional activities in essence relate to exploration for or production of oil and gas where that oil or gas is trapped in a subsurface formation and will flow by itself into a production well.
Unconventional activities relate to circumstances where the reservoir containing the oil or gas must be ‘stimulated’ in order that the oil or gas can be produced. The most common form of reservoir stimulation is hydraulic fracturing (frac-ing, often referred to as fracking).
Is frac-ing risky for the environment or our water supplies?
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association provides an accurate overview of frac-ing on its website.
Frac-ing involves the injection into a reservoir of a mix of water and sand. This opens up small fissures in the reservoir that are held open by the sand. The water itself is necessarily recovered to the surface so that oil and/or gas can subsequently be produced through the fissures.
The sand-water mix used for frac-ing will typically contain a small number and very low concentration (around 1%) of chemicals that, themselves, are in common domestic usage.
Some activists allege that frac-ing can interfere with groundwater supplies. These allegations are unsustainable. As reported by Popular Mechanics (Seamus McGraw, 1 May 2016) “Basic geology prevents such contamination from starting below ground”. Frac-ing programmes are carefully engineered to avoid interference with aquifers.