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Go slowly on fracking or risk big problems, says Australian researcher

20th May 2014

The British shale industry was warned yesterday to learn from Australia and to not rush into fracking without a proper public debate.

Tina Hunter, Director of Australia’s Centre for International Minerals and Energy Law, told a fracking conference in London: “Don’t go into fracking fast. Australia is a big, big country. A lot of it is desert, yet we’ve still had huge problems there by rushing ahead before legislation and public opinion were ready.”

She said the fracking industry in parts of Australia grew very quickly. “By the time people realised how big it was going to get it was like a train that couldn’t be stopped.”

Dr Hunter welcomed the idea of a dialogue in Britain. “Having a public discourse about it [fracking] is healthy”, she said. But she added: “I don’t think you are talking about the right issues.”

She said not enough attention was being paid to the impact of fracking on people. And she said there should be a discussion about:

  • The effect of fracking transport on people’s lives
  • Noise
  • Fugitive emissions
  • Impact of fracking on surface water
  • Storage of chemicals
  • The fear factor
  • Perception of what the industry is going to do

In an interview with Energy Live News after her presentation, Dr Turner criticised the UK government’s approach to communication:

“I think the message from the government that ‘this is going to happen. It’s going to happen now whether you like it or not’ is the wrong message. It’s treating the public like children which they’re not and it’s not giving them a say and they really need to have a say on what is happening in their neighbourhood.

“If the Government was to engage with the community and say ‘this is what we’re going to do and we’re going to do this together’ that would really change it… I don’t think the policy needs changing but the way the message is delivered and implemented.”

Dr Turner said companies must be required to provide good baseline data. She recommended chemically “finger-printing” the produced water from a fracking well. Analysis would establish the exact chemical signature of a well and provide evidence if there was any water pollution in future.

“Companies should be doing that”, she said, “if not the community should be asking for it, as should the local government authorities.”

“If down the track there is a problem, you then have the chemical fingerprint of the original source. Then you can say, quantifiably, yes it is from this or no it is not. It is an assurance to both the company and to the community”.

Dr Hunter said the regulators needed to make sure they were “ahead of the game”. She also had some advice, based on Australian experience, about the size of companies operating fracking wells. “Be very careful of very small companies who come in to make money”, she said . ”Little companies do not have the experience.”

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