The WA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has updated the requirements for proposals from companies wishing to use hydraulic fracturing for gas production.
Replacing the advice issued by the EPA in 2011, the December 2014 bulletin defines circumstances under which the EPA would assess a hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ proposal, and the expectations for information required from companies to conduct environmental impact assessments.
EPA chairman Dr Paul Vogel said that although the authority had only dealt with small-scale, proof of concept fracking well proposals for exploration in the past , it was important to provide early advice for larger scale proposals.
“Things have changed, we're likely to get a proposal for production in the next few years and we thought it would be very useful to give proponents a very clear understanding about when we would assess and what our information requirements would be,” Vogel said.
“It is essential that in preparing for the potential future referral of a larger-scale trial or full production-scale proposal, that the studies undertaken and information provided to the EPA are robust and sufficiently comprehensive to enable a thorough assessment of the environmental impacts and risks.”
Vogel said the bulletin only addressed hydraulic fracturing for shale and tight gas, and that the EPA would develop further guidance if hydraulic fracturing for coal seam gas was likely to be considered in WA.
So far the WA EPA has received six proposals for fracking in the state, dating from 2011 to December 2013, and in each case it was found the potential environmental impacts were not significant enough to warrant formal impact assessments.
A key issue outlined by the EPA relating to environmental impact of fracking is the level of understanding about the effects on groundwater basins and underground aquifer systems.
While there is good fundamental knowledge about the Perth Basin thanks to research by the Department of Water and other agencies, the EPA did have concerns about the potential consequences of any adverse environmental impact to those aquifers as they are used for public drinking water, agriculture and industry throughout the state.
The EPA also highlighted the lack of information about the Canning Basin, which would require further investment in scientific studies of the region to inform decision making.
Companies wishing to drill in the Canning Basin would be required to provide the EPA with local-scale details of aquifer characteristics with conceptual models based on data obtained through proof of concept proposals.
Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) Chief Operating Officer Western Region Stedman Ellis said the EPA had “clearly rejected the alarmist view that shale and tight gas projects cannot be developed safely”.