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We don’t want our land degraded or our beautiful rolling hills to become an eyesore covered in gas wells.

From the ‘Farmers & Friends Against Fracking’ press release.

I’m no expert on fracking, but I have been following the movement against the controversial practice. In weighing up all the evidence at my disposal, I’ve come down firmly on the side where we cannot allow corporations (and their lackey politicians) to continue to determine the future of our environment in this way. After all, that’s what has got us to where we are now, arguably at a critical tipping point in terms of the health of the planet.

The US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and UK governments, amongst others, have willfully ignored the concerns of the populace in relation to many things, with fracking emerging as another fraught testing ground for the increasingly abstract notion of democracy. And, with the federal election circus fast upon us in Australia, it is an appropriate time to maintain community attentiveness to the wheeling and dealing going on behind the closed doors of government.

Kevin Rudd has clearly signaled that he will support fracking (regardless, it seems, of the findings of the investigation that has been commissioned) and Tony Abbott is not to be trusted on anything related to the environment – everything the man says or does is politically and financially motivated. In fact, Abbott’s proposed ‘one-stop’ environmental approval process would seem to make it easier, not harder, for mining companies to railroad governments and communities.

Obviously, fracking represents a stream of income that fits in with both major parties’ equally transparent rhetoric about tackling climate change – the various forms of ‘on shore gas mining’ are being marketed as a viable alternative to fossil fuels (just as nuclear power was, again, not so long ago). And, even though they will be the ones enacting any legislation in relation to mining rights, the states have handed the final call over to the feds. Only through this feigned act of democratic process could the states be seen to be representing the interests of the ‘community’.

This cul-de-sac, where fracking lies at both ends, is why it is so important that real communities maintain their opposition and don’t give in to corporate/government manipulation or intimidation, now or at any time into the foreseeable future, until the fate of fracking is sealed, once and for all.

On Sunday the 18th of August, farmers (and friends) from Gippsland are rallying in Melbourne in protest against fracking in their region – both Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and Tight Gas mining are on the agenda. Given the extent of the publicity of this event, they are, I imagine, going to be joined by farmers from other parts of Victoria, from other states, and by concerned citizens from many cities and towns.

Farmers against fracking poster

Communities taking their anti-gas mining message to Melbourne.

These farmers and their supporters are rallying because fracking has been proven to be environmentally damaging in many ways and because the jury is still out, and has been out for a long time now, on other potential impacts on the health of the planet and on humans. There is a growing global suspicion about fracking, as there is about many things motivated by political and corporate expediency. The lengths that companies will go to, to silence opposition on fracking, speaks volumes about the amount of money that is at stake in the new ‘mining boom’. (A recent case in Queensland, where a mining company was fined a slap on the wrist ($100,000) for destroying an Aboriginal sacred site, further exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of the mining industry per se.)

Anybody who has been to Gippsland, or who lives there, knows how beautiful and precious this part of our state is; yet all of this country is equally precious. Sometimes I think I am lucky enough to live in the most strikingly beautiful place on earth. But I’m biased. And there is nothing good about drilling deeper and deeper into the earth’s surface, no matter where it is occurring.

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Gippsland, somewhere lush and green near Mirboo North. (Photo supplied by Coal & CSG Free Mirboo North)

Hosted by Coal & CSG Free Mirboo North and Quit Coal, with an address by Drew Hutton – Founder of the Lock the Gate Alliance, the 18th August rally is billed as a peaceful protest – it is, according to the organisers, a way of telling government that rural and regional Victorians don’t want to “share their precious farmland with coal, coal seam, tight or shale gas mining”. The Gippsland farmers are also delivering a petition with 10,000 signatures to be tabled in the Victorian Parliament – “Ten thousand voices saying no to the planned expansion of coal and unconventional mining in our region.”

The rally’s press release goes on to say that, “This issue has transcended all political persuasions and personal philosophies and has brought together a vastly diverse cross section of our communities. People from all walks of life will meet at this peaceful gathering to showcase all that will be adversely affected by this issue.”

Alpacas Gippsland

An Alpaca farm in Gippsland (Photo supplied by Coal & CSG Free Mirboo North).

In response to the community opposition in Gippsland, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) has “launched a multi-million dollar national campaign to highlight what it says are risks that threaten future jobs, investment and the next wave of the resources boom”, according to an article in the Gippsland Times & Maffra Spectator on August 5th. Apparently the company’s “campaign highlights that natural gas is a critical part of Australian life, and crucial to the nation’s future prosperity” (my emphasis).

In a similar ‘public relations’ move on the north coast of NSW, where the Lock the Gate Alliance has been both vocal and successful in pushing to halt CSG exploration and mining, Metgasco offered to send staff members to address local school children on the issue. The offer was vehemently refused.

In the Kimberley in Western Australia, where APPEA companies and the Buru Energy company are poised to begin shale gas mining (which is even riskier than CSG, as it drills even further into the earth’s strata), a major study of Australian shale gas by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) has undermined the financial viability of mining the shale gas reserves in the Canning Basin, where Buru holds the permits.

“A colossal gas resource just a pipeline away from market sounds like money in the bank. As investors started to realise that Buru Energy was sitting on a mountain of gas in the Canning Basin the share price soared. Buru Energy was the S&P/ASX 200 top performing company in the financial year to June 2012 with shares almost quadrupling in value. But since that time and despite Buru moving towards commercialising a conventional oil find east of Broome, the share price has halved,” says Ben Collins in the article on ABC Kimberley.

Gas demonstrators in WA

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett confronts anti gas protesters in Broome. (Photo by Clancy McDowell – ABC Local )

Nothing underscores the sole motivation of the multinational and secretive mining companies more than the fact that community opposition is not the key to disbanding a proposal – rather, the share price governs the outcome.

In the lead up to the Australian federal election, groups and communities opposed to on shore mining have picked up the pace, with events planned all over the country. The media scrutiny of fracking is becoming almost as extensive as that of climate change, and the two are intricately connected.

Coal & CSG Free Mirboo North and Quit Coal‘s press release for the rally states that: “Gippsland is on the brink of realising its biggest export market to China: a potentially huge coup for the dairy, beef and vegetable industry in this region. Let’s not risk this opportunity by taking a chance and letting mining companies on our land. This is a poorly regulated, unsafe industry that is only concerned with short term profits; mostly for overseas shareholders.”

And Australia is, arguably, on the brink of the transition to a future based in renewable energy. If we’ve run out of natural gas, we’ve run out of natural gas. That shouldn’t mean we dig even further into the earth to fulfill the manufacturing, heating and cooking needs of a very small portion of the world’s population, particularly when the impact of doing so is largely unknown and threatens significant portions of the environment. But, of course, corporate profits and vested political interests are the real story here, not some altruistic program of providing non fossil fuel-based energy for the future of the planet.

You can watch the damning Four Corners report into CSG from April 2013 here.

Details of further events in Victoria and around the country can be found on the Coal & CSG Free Mirboo North Facebook page or the Lock the Gate Alliance website.

Feature image is Kow Swamp, near Cohuna in the central Murray district, where significant Aboriginal archeological discoveries have been made.

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