New rules that give landowners the right to veto fracking in Western Australia will not be introduced to Parliament before the next election.
Fracking is not permitted in WA until the landowner consent and code of practice are implemented
The delay appears set to leave a range of proposed reforms, including a fracking industry code of practice and traditional owner consent requirements, for a future WA government to conclude.
Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said the plan to implement the new regulations had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The reason for that delay is because we had a global pandemic and we put our agency onto other work,” Mr Johnston said.
“We needed the staff to do other work in the department, and we put some work on hold including the HFS (hydraulic fracture stimulation) policy.”
A full agenda
Parliament’s final sitting dates are set down for November, ahead of the March 2021 election.
The legislative agenda for the rest of the year is full, with issues including a delayed state budget and urgent changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act expected to take priority.
Both the energy industry and opponents of fracking have expressed concerns about what the delays could mean for the issue.
Claire Wilkinson, WA director of Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, accepted the pandemic has contributed to the delay.
But she said there were signs the process was in trouble before COVID-19 struck.
“We were seeing fairly slow progress even prior to COVID-19,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“The clear thing we need is some regulatory certainty.”
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Environs Kimberley Director and fracking opponent Martin Pritchard said he would approach the WA Liberal Party about their intentions in the event of an election victory.
“We’ve yet to see the policies of the opposition,” Mr Pritchard said.
“We’d like to think that the Liberal/National coalition in Western Australia do want to protect places like the Kimberley.”
Fracking still not permitted in WA
The Government announced it was lifting its moratorium on fracking in November 2018 at the conclusion of the WA scientific inquiry, which found fracking posed a low risk to human health and the environment.
But even with the moratorium lifted, fracking is not permitted in Western Australia until the code of conduct and traditional owner and private landowner consent requirements can be implemented.
As recently as last month, the industry was told this process was on track to be completed this year.
“We’ve been told by Government that they’re still aiming for the end of 2020 time frame,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“I’m hoping that they’ve taken into account all of the needed and required legislative changes.”
The Government’s plan says that legislative changes are needed for private landowner consent requirements, and does not specify for the code of practice or traditional owner consent.
Mr Johnston says the legislative requirements are still being determined
“Given the code of practice is not yet complete it is not possible for me to say,” he said.
“The draft code of practice has been slightly delayed, and a consultation draft is now expected to be available in the third quarter of this year.”
Opposition spokesman Bill Marmion says the fracking industry had been unfairly penalised by the Government by the ongoing restrictions that needed legislation before they could be lifted.
“Basically they’ve tied up the industry for four years,” Mr Marmion said.
“I don’t believe that there’s any chance of it getting through [before the election].”
Fracking in the state election
While the Labor Government is looking strong going into next year’s WA election, the state has seen underdogs achieve surprise victories in the past.
Bill Marmion says that if he became the new minister for mines and petroleum he will not throw out all the fracking policies of the current Government.
“I don’t think we’d have any interest in changing the National Park moratorium, or the Dampier Peninsula that they’ve cut off, and probably the South West as well,” Mr Marmion said.
“In regards to the right of consent to traditional owners and private owners…that’s something we are unlikely to roll back.”
But he does question the current policy of making 98 per cent of Western Australia permanently off-limits to fracking.
“As the [WA scientific inquiry] report said, the risk to the environment, to health, to water, is extremely low,” Mr Marmion said.
“If I was the minister coming in with the next government, I’d certainly be having a chat to the department to see how we can get things happening.”
The Minister agrees it is too late for legislative amendments in this term, but is keen to finish the job following the election.
“Our position is to make sure that in the circumstances where hydraulic fracturing takes place, if it is ever to take place, it has to be in a thoroughly rigorously regulated fashion,” Mr Johnston said.
“In the meantime we’re going to design the best regulatory framework in the world, and we don’t apologise for doing it carefully and properly.”
This content was originally published here.