Sophie Scamps introduces Bill to protect Australia’s water resources from gas fracking
Independent MP Dr Sophie Scamps has today introduced a Private Member’s Bill to strengthen Australia’s national environmental laws in a bid to protect Australia’s water resources from fracking.
The Mackellar MP’s Bill would strengthen the water trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) to ensure all unconventional gas fracking projects are assessed by the Federal Environment Minister for their impact on local water resources.
Currently only coal seam gas projects are required to be assessed and approved under Australia’s national environment laws. Other types of unconventional gas projects, such as those that use hydraulic fracturing to extract shale and tight gas, are exempt. If passed, Dr Scamps’ Bill would require shale gas fracking projects proposed in the Beetaloo Basin to obtain federal approval before proceeding.
Dr Scamps MP said she has been compelled to introduce the Bill to Parliament as Labor has delayed fulfilling their election promise to close this loophole in the water trigger.
“While the current water trigger in the EPBC Act covers large coal mining and coal seam gas projects, there is no such federal oversight required for the approval of other types of gas fracking projects. This loophole is dangerous and could see projects proceed that have the potential to devastate our scarce water resources,” said Dr Scamps.
“This is a simple change to the EPBC Act that the Government has already committed to, and which a Senate Committee Report said must be done by the end of this year. With the threat of drought again looming large and the approval of new shale fracking projects in the Beetaloo Basin imminent, it is urgent that we act now to protect our water resources from potentially destructive unconventional fracking practices,” said Dr Scamps.
“My Bill is uncontroversial as it is no different to what Labor has promised to do. The Bill also has the backing of the crossbench, so there is no reason it cannot be agreed to by the Government and passed this week,” said Dr Scamps.
Warringah Independent MP Zali Steggall, who seconded the Bill, said: “The Samuel Review was received in October 2020 under the Morrison Government and despite the clear urgency in implementing its recommendations, the government has yet to commit to a clear timeline for amending the EPBC Act or at least halt approvals of projects pending its amendments.”
“As we experience record temperatures and drought conditions this summer, with an officially declared El Nino, the need to regulate access and use of water, a precious resource, particularly for regional and agricultural communities, becomes ever more urgent. We cannot delay any further,” said Ms Steggall MP.
Dr Scamps’ Private Member’s Bill comes as Traditional Owners in the Beetaloo Basin have ramped up their campaign opposing proposed shale gas fracking in the Northern Territory. In partnership with the Lock the Gate Alliance, Traditional Owners have highlighted the potentially devastating impact that fracking could have on their country and community, hosting briefings with the crossbench and Labor MPs in recent months.
Ray Dimakarri Dixon, a Mudburra elder from the Marlinja community, who travelled to Canberra to brief MPs last month said: “The changes being forced on us in the Northern Territory at the moment are just like the blowing up of Juukan Gorge. The dollars don’t mean anything to us. Land is our life. Water is our life. We’ve got nowhere else to go. This is destroying our land and our culture. It needs to stop.”
Tony Windsor AM, the former Independent MP for New England, welcomed Dr Scamps’ Bill but cautioned any changes to the water trigger may be at risk if future approvals are devolved to the states.
“Dr Scamps’ Bill is incredibly welcome and if the Government is serious about protecting our scarce water resources they should adopt it without delay,” said Mr Windsor.
“However we need to be very careful that the Government doesn’t beef up environmental laws only to hand over future approvals and scientific assessment work as part of any overhaul of the EPBC Act to states and territories, who are likely to favour developments over the environment.”
Dr Scamps’ push is also backed by a range of environmental organisations including the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Lock the Gate Alliance, Environment Centre NT, as well as Traditional Owners and pastoralists in the Northern Territory.
Quote from Gavan McFadzean, Program Manager for Climate & Energy at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF):
“In order to maintain a liveable climate, we can’t afford to approve any new gas mines. At the very least we must make sure the impact new gas fracking projects will have on Australians’ shared water resources are thoroughly assessed. Without an expanded water trigger in our nature laws, enormous new fracking gas mines, like those proposed in the Beetaloo Basin, will go ahead and pollute vital outback water. We need the water trigger expanded to all gas fracking proposals immediately. Since the government has already committed to it, there should not be any delay.”
Quote from Carmel Flint, National Coordinator for Lock the Gate Alliance:
“There’s no time to waste with getting the water trigger in place for shale gas fracking projects, especially in the Northern Territory. Fracking is likely to cause over-extraction and contamination of water sources and will put underground water, creeks and rivers all at risk including iconic sites like Mataranka Hot Springs and the Roper River. Extending the water trigger means the Federal Government will have a role in getting expert advice on fracking threats to water and the power to reject dangerous projects.”
Quote from Luciana Ravazzotti, Rallen pastoralists:
“We’re really pleased to see this Bill introduced by Dr Scamps to extend the water trigger to shale gas fracking. If it is passed, it will mean that a national panel of water experts, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, will be thoroughly reviewing proposed fracking projects and giving independent advice on the risks. It will also mean that the Federal Environment Minister will have to decide on whether fracking projects should go ahead under national environment laws. It’s another level of oversight that we desperately need because the Northern Territory Government hasn’t been listening to Territorians.
“In the lead-up to the Federal election in 2022, our local Federal Labor member Marion Scrymgour committed to extending the water trigger to shale gas fracking, and a Senate Inquiry earlier this year said it needs to be in place by December this year. We’re running out of time. We’re calling on Federal Labor to stick with their promises, and vote to get these new protections in place for water resources this year.”
Quote from Kirsty Howey, Executive Director at Environment Centre NT:
“The Northern Territory’s precious waterways – from the Roper River to Mataranka Hot Springs – face decimation by fracking without urgent intervention. The Australian Government must move urgently to safeguard our water by expanding the water trigger to include shale gas, or there is a real risk that gas companies will irreversibly damage livelihoods, tourism, pastoralism, sacred sites, communities and the NT’s extraordinary natural and cultural values.”
“This is a promise made to the people of the Northern Territory by the Albanese Government, and we expect our politicians to keep it.”