“Fracking is a great U.S. export, thanks Dick Cheny and Haliburton … Not!” That’s how Rob Alder, front man for the conservation group No Oil for SW Beaches, concluded a recent email in which he was describing the various environmental threats facing the greater Margaret River area.Essentially the prized West Oz surfing grounds (also fertile agriculture land, as well as a popular tourist area) are facing a triple eco threat, including oil drilling, coal mining, and gas fracking. But on the bright side, at least there’s no nuclear plant planned.According to Alder, the Australian federal government has offered 13,360km2 in the Mentelle Basin, 85kms out from Margaret River all the way up to Perth, to the oil companies to drill. Look no further than the disaster in the Gulf to see how safe Deepwater Horizon rigs can be.
“There may be the technology to drill that deep, there’s no guarantee that the technology or experience exists to contain a well blow-out at those depths,” says Alder. “Since the Montara blowout in the North West Australian shelf, recommendations have been made regarding the placement of containment equipment and a better response plan, but there hasn’t been any legislation put in place. Even BP has been granted two deepwater licenses in the Great Australian Bight with no contingency legislation. We don’t want an oil spill spoiling this beautiful clean coastline and the marine environment. With such big swells and the Leeuwin currents coming down the coast from the north, a spill could be uncontainable.”
Meanwhile, coal mining companies currently hold seven active leases in the area, although no permission to commence mining has been granted.”We just had the EPA reject the first proposal to mine. We’re waiting for confirmation from State Government to accept the recommendation. The EPA found that the risk to our aquifer was too great ,” tells Alder. “The coal mine would have drained the aquifer then bored through it to get to the coal, which it then would have been taken out on B-Double semi trailers (double 18 wheelers) every nine minutes, 24/7, to a town 25km north of here to be washed (with more precious water from our aquifer) before being exported to India.”There would have been about 200 jobs created,” continues Adler, “but the clean, green brand ‘Margaret River’ would have been fatally damaged, along with the local environment and river that gives the location its identity as supports the wine a tourism industries. Already land values have dropped significantly just because of the threat of a coal mine, and many farmers and vintners couldn’t extend mortgages or loans. People don’t usually head for a coal mine to take their holidays.”And then there’s the not-so-safe practice of coal seam gas fracking. “There are now at least four exploratory licenses issued for Bunbury, Bussleton, Vasse, and the Margaret River area” sums up Alder. “That’s into, and connected to, our aquifers. There is no regulatory framework for CSG fracking in WA, which is very scary.”Our need for cheap, reliable energy can’t be denied. We need some kind of fuel to power our cars and computers, but as evidence by what’s happening in Japan now and what happened last summer in the Gulf of Mexico, this quest for power is taking an incredible toll on our environment. This isn’t just about saving a surf break, or making sure a small stretch of beach is protected, the impact of oil drilling, coal mining and gas fracking is far greater and has the potential to effect far more people from all kinds of walks of life. So as the second ASP Prime of the year braces itself for some powerful surf, there may be a much bigger threat looming on the horizon.