Explorer moves closer to Kimberley fracking

explorerWA’s environmental watchdog will not subject Buru Energy to a formal assessment for its tight gas exploration program in the Kimberley, moving the company one step closer to fracking in the region.
Buru referred an exploration program proposal to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) last year, to carry out a tight gas simulation using the controversial hydraulic fracturing process at four wells in WA’s Canning Basin.
Under the proposal, 31 megalitres of water would be sourced from the Canning Basin and used for fracking in the Laurel formation at two locations – Yulleroo, 80km east of Broome and Valhalla, 320km east of Broome.
Only one of the 16 public comments supported the proposal, with concerns raised about the fracking process itself, as well as potential groundwater contamination, the amount of water required, air pollution and the impacts of full-scale gas production in the Kimberley.
However, in a letter sent to the company last month, EPA assessment and compliance division director Anthony Sutton said the authority had decided not to subject the proposal to the environmental impact assessment process, despite acknowledging it raised “a number of environmental issues”.
“The EPA considers that this small scale, ‘proof of concept’ exploration drilling proposal is unlikely to have a significant impact on the environment,” the EPA stated in public advice attached to the letter.
The authority said the risk of groundwater contamination or any impact on nearby shallow aquifers was low because of the depth and geology of the target formation.
“In contrast to coal seam gas hydraulic fracturing operations in eastern Australia, the targets for hydraulic fracturing in the current proposal are significantly deeper and therefore further from groundwater aquifers that are utilised as water supplies,” the advice said.
“The Laurel formation and the surface aquifers that are used as potable water supply in the area are separated by between 600 metres and 1500 metres of impermeable rock.”
The EPA said the potential impacts associated with the proposal could be further evaluated, regulated and mitigated by the Department of Mines and Petroleum and Department of Water Western Australia.
Last month’s decision does not clear the way for Buru to develop a full-scale production field, with the EPA noting any future proposal for a tight oil operation would be considered on its own merits.
A state parliamentary inquiry into fracking in WA is still underway and has heard vocal opposition from environmental groups, Aboriginal corporations and health and water authorities.
The decision was open to appeal for 14 days.