Tasmania's agricultural sector contributes over a billion dollars to the state's economy annually. The contribution of agriculture to the state's economy is the largest of any state in Australia. The State Government's strategic plan states that it aims to grow the annual turnover of the agricultural sector to $10 billion by 2050.
Shale gas mining and fracking would undermine the government's 2050 objective. It would also seriously jeopardise all current financial investment and infrastructure development, including the substantial investments made to the roll-out of irrigation infrastructure.
The peak group representing farmers in NSW, the Farmers Association, has expressed concerns about the lack of prioritisation of farming in relation to approvals for unconventional gas projects on and near farming land.
NSW Farmers says the unconventional gas reserves in that state represent just 0.7% of the total global gas reserves that can currently be profitably extracted, which:
... raises significant questions around why we are threatening food production, our environment and the fabric or our rural communities to extract this gas when we still have some 63 years of conventional gas remaining which avoids these concerns.
The risk to productive farmland is even more incomprehensible in light of the fact that our decision makers and policy makers must know that frack gas wells have a very short lifespan (and if they don't know, they should).
Fracking has been rampant in the US for over 15 years. Production figures for two of the largest shale fields there, the Barnett and Bakken fields, show that on average, after 5 years, wells produce just 10 percent of the gas produced in their first month of production.
Our ability to feed ourselves, our food supply going forward, needs to last a very long time. Ensuring our food security for future generations will require careful stewardship of productive farming land and water sources.
The farmers and food producers of New York eloquently reveal the fundamental value of agricultural work and the illusory benefits of fracking for oil and gas:
We are farmers, bakers, vintners, millers, chefs, and food-makers of all kinds. Every day, we devote ourselves to the care of our communities. We are proud to nourish our neighbors and to bring life to our land. We have examined the evidence, and we are convinced that the exploitation of shale gas in New York will bring our communities to harm.
We are aware that those who will profit most from shale gas exploitation claim that it is safe, economically and environmentally sound, and a benefit to all. We are not convinced. Not remotely.
As farmers, we have seen the soils of New York abused and damaged on the bad advice of industry hucksters. We have seen our waterways befouled, our children too young on their deathbeds, and our communities fallen into unnecessary decline—all to boost the profits of distant industries and investors.
As makers of food and wine, we depend on the purity of our water and the vitality of our soils. These are our foundation, and without them our work is impossible. It is clear to us that shale gas exploitation puts our future at risk.
As chefs and restaurateurs, we bring the bounty of New York soils to our communities, nourishing them in the most intimate ways. The food that we produce becomes the bodies, the cells, and the blood of our neighbors; and so will the poisons produced by fracking.
We know that shale gas promoters promise big money for all. We have heard the easy claim that "fracking is perfectly safe, if done correctly". But we are not children, and we are not easily swayed by nonsense.
We have seen evidence that when fracking comes to town, only a few benefit, and even they must count their gains in the short term. We have seen communities fracture, land values become skewed, and agriculture decline. We know, because we have seen it before, that safety regulations will be unevenly applied, and that mishaps and accidents, not to mention deliberate malfeasance, are inevitable.
Industry spokesmen like to claim that we who oppose them oppose the future. But they are wrong. Any society that survives only by destroying its most precious resources is not a healthy one. We have devoted our lives to the well-being of our land and our people; that, we believe, is a future worth having.
Let us speak plainly: Fracking will bring us no benefit, and only harm. It will put at risk the things we value most—clean water, healthy soils, and vital communities. It will cost us—in blood and treasure—more than we can afford.
Farmers and Food Producers Against Fracking
Farmers Against Fracking
Unconventional gas extraction cannot co-exist with intensive farming operations. Gasfields require an ever expanding network of wells to be commercially viable. Over time, large areas will be gobbled up by gas wells and their associated infrastructure. Large tracts of farmland will become unavailable for food production, forests and native bushland will be cleared and fragmented, and residential communities and regional centres will become industrialised.
Rural landscapes are not industrial zones. As well as dramatically changing rural areas into industrialised wastelands, the impact of fracking wells and infrastructure on the surface can undermine the agricultural productivity of an area. Fracking brings the high probability of contaminating our water and soil and polluting our air. It can also significantly disrupt fragile ecosystems and the environmental value of forests and bushland.
Research in the US, where fracking has been underway since 1997 and has been studied more intensively than Australian gasfields, has found that contaminated water supplies on farms resulted in harm to livestock including, among other things, cattle deaths, stillbirths and reproductive problems.
Fracking on or near farming land brings the risk of chemical residues in meat and dairy, vegetables and grains, unknowingly entering the food chain. The market's perception of contamination is as critical to a company's image and branding as its exposure to contaminants. Recognising this, in New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra announced it wouldn't accept any milk from farmers whose dairies were affected by drilling muds and drilling waste from oil and gas mining on their properties. Fonterra judged the risk to their brand of being associated with a toxic industry like fracking was simply too high and the cost of testing the milk for contaminants too expensive.
Submissions from local businesses and industries to the state government's 2014 review of fracking in Tasmania came to the same conclusions about fracking as Fonterra:
"(We) do not support fracking in Tasmania'. 'Firstly the impact on sustainable agricultural production and, secondly, on the Tasmanian (wine) brand."
Truffles of Tasmania
"If Fracking was to be done on our farm, our entire business operation would be ruined overnight."
Houston's Farm of the Coal River Valley
"We are deeply concerned that if our limited sources of high quality water are degraded by the impact of hydraulic fracturing activities, then our business will prove to be unviable."
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) also warned of the impact of fracking on farming communities who are the 'backbone of Tasmanian economic and social society in rural Tasmania'.
Tasmanian farmers are right to question whether their prime agricultural farmlands will be given special consideration by oil and gas companies. Will anything in their path be exempted from fracking developments if a resource is proved? This hasn't been the case in mainland states. In NSW the state government even retrospectively changed the laws when farmers won the right in the NSW Supreme Court to refuse miners access to their properties if they breached their access agreements.
Australia's Water Sources at Risk
Areas of substantial agricultural use and value where fracking has been permitted include the Liverpool Plains, the Darling Downs, the Limestone Coast and Gloucester. The Great Artesian Basin, Coorong Wetlands and Cooper Creek are highly valuable water resources we cannot afford to waste on fracking for gas we don't need.
Mineral Resources Tasmania acknowledges that transfers of surface water allocations for fracking could have a significant impact on the agricultural sector in Tasmania. Water for shale and tight gas fracking will have to be obtained from existing surface water sources, which are likely to be already fully allocated to agricultural users. The DPIPWE final report confirms that the oil and gas industry would draw its water requirements from existing sources.
Water usage diverts water from existing users. The extraction of gigalitres of water for fracking will be detrimental to agriculture, as well as impacting river health, dewatering aquifers and lowering water tables.
Water security is an issue the unconventional gas industry hasn't confronted, even though it's one that will have long-term consequences for the safety and security of our food production. Fracking risks pumping our natural water systems dry and, equally importantly, water used in fracking job can't yet be restored to its uncontaminated state and returned to the water cycle for future use.
Water contamination risks from fracking are so high they have been classified as almost certain by ACOLA. Numerous instances of water contamination from fracking chemicals, methane migration and toxic wastewater spills or dumping have been documented in mainland states and overseas.
Fracking will also put Tasmania's Irrigation Scheme at risk. The $104 million scheme covers 55,484ha and delivers 38,500 megalitres of water a year to farmers and primary producers. The scheme means that rainwater can be stored until it is needed, virtually drought-proofing farming areas.
The Midlands Water Scheme, which forms the bulk of the exploration licence area issued to PetraGas, is expected to grow the wealth of regional communities in the region and help create new industries, such as the expansion of the dairy industry and the production of vegetable seeds for export. If it's not fracked first, irrigation will also be the key driver in Tasmania's plans to double its fruit and vegetable output over the next 6 years.
Fragmentation of Farmland
Unlike traditional mining enterprises which have a localised impact, gasfields spread out over the landscape. Fracking gasfields involve multiple sites spread over large areas. Fields often start out with a small number of wells, but as the gas depletes 'infill drilling' commences, radically increasing the concentration of wells. In the Tara gasfields in Queensland, some families say wells on their properties were initially spaced about 1km apart, but with the planned infill drilling the wells will be only about 300 metres apart.
The most mature shale gas field in the US, the Barnett Shale in Texas, has up to 6 wells per square kilometre in some areas. The New York Department of Environment estimates that well density in the Marcellus Shale is around 2.5 per square km.
In order to get their gas to market, gas miners enter into contracts with a natural gas pipeline company to transport the gas they've extracted. Fracking companies commit to deliver a specific amount of gas per day, and pipeline companies agree to provide transmission capacity. Because production rates fall by 60 to 80 percent after the first year, new wells have to be drilled so the amount of gas promised to the pipeline can be delivered. At the end of the 2nd year the company has 1st year production drops on all its new wells, and 2nd year production drops on all the wells it drilled in the 1st year. Fracking companies are forced to drill, drill, drill to meet their contractual obligations to the pipeline company.
Gasfields Develop Rapidly
Gas fracking fields can emerge with alarming speed. In QLD and NSW, despite vocal community opposition, several thousand wells have been drilled within a few short years. Land surface requirements for fracking include land clearing for webs of densely spaced wells, pumps, drill pads, generators, compressor stations, waste water storage ponds or tanks, gas pipelines, easements and fire breaks, as well as roads for heavy vehicles hauling construction equipment and the vast quantities of water, chemicals and sand each well consumes.
Fracking Displaces Farming
Fracking infrastructure disrupts current land-use practices and substantially impacts farmers' ability to work their land. The scale and diversity of intensive, industrial infrastructure cannot be placed in line with existing farm infrastructure like roads or fences. A far more likely scenario is that gas bearing formations and drilling crews, armed with company maps and geological surveys, determine where infrastructure will be placed.
Farmers in the Tara and Chinchilla districts in QLD are concerned that with 40,000 gas wells planned for the area, a vast spider web of industrial infrastructure will crisscross some of the state's prime farming land. Drill sites are springing up all over their farms and with gas workers constantly around, many feel they've lost control of their property. There is significant gas leakage from some wells, and farmers fear Australia's greatest underground water resource, the Great Artesian Basin, will be contaminated and depleted.
Farmers in Gloucester NSW say fracking for coal seam gas will destroy the complex water resource in the region. They are worried about the loss of farming land, the draw down on the water table and the use of chemicals in the fracking process. Farmers are concerned the dangerous chemicals used in fracking will go back into the irrigation trial and will be sprayed out onto the paddocks. There are 356 farmers in Gloucester producing $52 million of food.
Mainland farmers say the density of wells and drill pads and the infrastructure associated with fracking operations means that it's almost impossible for them to use the modern machinery they've invested in to undertake broadacre farming. Rural families also cite safety concerns about the coming and going of hundreds of trucks and tankers and strangers (gas development staff and workers) having unfettered access to their property.
Clearing and fragmenting bushland and forested areas, and degrading riparian zones to make way for fracking infrastructure like well pads and pipelines, eventually impacts on drinking water. Intact native ecosystems and riparian buffers are critical in protecting surface water quality from pollutants.
Globally, there is an increasing demand for organically grown food. Australia's organic industry is valued at almost $2 billion annually.
The organic industry is the fastest growing agricultural market with an annual growth rate of over 15 percent since 2008. In 2013 the market was valued at around US$72 billion globally, and is tipped to exceed US$100 billion in 2015.
The premium prices Tasmanian organic products command means that the financial returns of farming organics are comparable to or exceed conventional farming. Tasmania has around a dozen successful large enterprises, and there are many more small-scale organic farms are where lifestyle and philosophy play a big part in farming organically.
Fracking and farming organically don't mix. They cannot co-exist. As one ex-organic farmer in the US said after a well was drilled on a neighbouring property less than a kilometre from the farm:
We can't in good conscience say our food is organic, as we no longer are sure about what chemicals are leaching into our soil through our water and through air contamination. The safety of our well water and the chemicals in our air may be doing real damage to our fields.
The terms negotiated by the federal government in relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership could also impact Tasmania's ability to continue to grow and market organic produce if the current moratorium is withdrawn or is later successfully challenged by 'investor' fracking companies.