Victoria has become the first state in Australia to permanently ban unconventional onshore gas mining—including hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. The bill, proposed last year and praised by environmental groups and farmers, has successfully passed through the state parliament. While there's been a moratorium on fracking in Victoria since 2012, the new legislation will extend this indefinitely.
The decision follows a parliamentary inquiry into onshore unconventional gas mining, which received more than 1,600 submissions. Fracking works by injecting liquid into the earth at high pressures to fracture the rock beneath—allowing oil and gas below to flow upwards.Victoria's agriculture sector is largely opposed to the practice due to its potential environmental and health risks.
"There has been a great deal of community concern and anxiety about onshore unconventional gas—this decision gets the balance right," Victoria's Minister for Resources Wade Noonan said last year. "We have carefully considered the Parliamentary Inquiry's key findings and recommendations, consulted widely and made our decision on the best available evidence."
The Victorian government said that it wished to preserve the state's reputation for "clean, green" agriculture and that the decision to ban unconventional gas mining was based on the best available evidence and risk assessment.
The legislation will also extend Victoria's current ban on conventional gas mining until 2020. This doesn't require fracking, as it is tapping more easily accessible underground reservoirs.
Until 2020, the state government will be undertaking extensive scientific, technical, and environmental studies on the risks, benefits, and impacts of onshore gas. The study will be overseen by an expert panel including farmers, industry, business and community representatives. The ban on conventional gas mining may be lifted after this date, if it can be shown that the process doesn't pose a high risk to health or the environment.
The exploration and development of offshore gas reserves will continue in Victoria.