Landowners in Australia are staging a protest to stop mining companies from drilling for coal seam gas on their farms, an energy source accessed via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. According to a report from Sky News, fracking is proving as controversial in Australia as it has in the U.S., where its use to tap natural gas deposits in shale rock formations is widespread.
According to the report, thousands of farmers across Queensland and New South Wales have begun hanging triangular signs on their farm gates urging property owners to “lock the gate” to mining and drilling companies. They are concerned that fracking will poison underground water, contaminate good agricultural soil and cause serious health problems.
So far, 2000 farmers have joined the â€œLock the Gate” campaign, Sky News said. They have been joined environmentalists, as well as celebrities like Olivia Newton John, in raising the alarm about the dangers of fracking. To highlight their concerns, they point to instances where fracking has contaminated drinking water in the U.S., including the infamous Dimock, Pennsylvania tragedy, where fracking caused residents’ water wells to become contaminated with dangerous levels of methane, aluminum and iron.
The goal of the protest is the institution of a fracking ban in Australia. Other countries, including France, England, and South Africa, have already banned fracking because of health and environmental concerns.
The government of Australia sees fracking as an important way to raise revenue in difficult economic times. The government of Queensland, for example, estimates that taxes and royalties from just one coal seam gas export project could earn it as much as $1 billion per year.Proponents of fracking believe it will bring a whole new export industry to Queensland, and they promise that strict regulations will prevent the problems environmentalists and farmers fear. These regulations include the banning so called BTEX chemicals in fracking fluids. BTEX – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) – are known to cause cancer.
But in a submission to a Senate inquiry investigating coal seam gas extraction, a group of medical experts said such regulations are inadequate. They asserted that BTEX chemicals that naturally exist in coal seams can be released by fracking, and point out that the chemicals have been found at least two fracking operations in Queensland.
The activists behind the “Lock the Gate” campaign have promised to make fracking an issue in the next Queensland election. “The next election will be won and lost on this issue,â€ Drew Hutton, President of the Lock the Gate Alliance, told Sky News. “‘We are going to put pressure on the political parties and will campaign against anyone who won’t install the appropriate protections.”