FRACK OFF: Growers' rare opportunity to stop gas practice
BUNDABERG Fruit and Vegetable Growers has seized upon the impending expiration of an oil and gas giant's two fracking licenses to pressure the State Government to stop the spread of the practice across the Wide Bay Burnett region.
Two out of three exploration licences held by Blue Energy in Maryborough are up for renewal in December, with the third set to expire in 2019.
The oil and gas exploration company currently owns 100 per cent of the Marybourough Basin, which its 2017 financial report flagged as a "significantly under explored frontier".
In light of the once-in-a-decade opportunity, Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers has commissioned an independent report into the impacts of fracking.
"We have this unique opportunity to place pressure on the State Government to not renew these licences," managing director Bree Grima said.
Fracking consists of drilling down into the earth before a mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected into rock at high pressure, forcing gas to flow out.
According to environmentalists, the controversial practice can result in the release of carcinogenic chemicals and small earth tremors.
Fracking licences can remain in place for as long as 10 years - another reason Ms Grima said her organisation wanted the licences to be extinguised.
"We're advocating for the future here," she told the NewsMail.
"These ones have been in place for quite some time, but we've got a very short timeframe to conduct this report in."
The five-six week report, which kicked off last month, is being run by independent consultant Tom Crothers of Stellar Advisory Services.
Ms Grima said Mr Crothers was looking into the potential impacts of unconventional gas developments in the agricultural industry in the Wide Bay Burnett.
"What they're looking for is shale gas, which can be quite a difficult gas to extract and impacts both surface and groundwater resources," she said.
"Fracking uses a lot of water and damages aquifers and water supplies.
"We need to protect prime agricultural land in the region."
Though Blue Energy does not own any sites in and around the Rum City, Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers believes the giant could turn its head north in the future.
"If their licences are renewed they can come in here and do some fracking," Ms Grima said.
"It's our understanding that's something they want to look into in the future."
However, EnergyQuest CEO Graeme Bethune told the NewsMail he did not see Blue Energy shifting closer to the Bundy region.
"Their main focus is the Bowen Basin, so I'd be very surprised if they were planning to be very active in that area," Mr Bethune said.
He added that more than a dozen inquiries had all concluded fracking could be carried out safely.
Despite the economic opportunity the Bundaberg region represents to Blue Energy, the practice's benefits are not limited to oil and gas explorers only, adding value to local farmers as well.
Ms Grima acknowledged there was "a lot of room for Blue Energy to help landowners".
"They can come in, use a quarter of an acre to put down wells and go from there," she admitted.
"There's no law that protects strategic cropping land from the gas field ... and we do recognise it can bring opportunity to landholders, so we want people to make their own decisions, but we need to put protection measures in place for prime agricultural land.
"Plus, generally it'll be easier to do that (fracking) in a beef paddock than in a Macadamia orchid."
With this in mind, Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers has continued discussions with local cane growers, horticulturists and other landowners, pressing the conversation that prime agricultural land needs to be protected.
"People need to have confidence they can decline any mining industry on their own land - it is a business decision," Ms Grima said.
"Because of this report, they'll have the confidence because they'll have our backing, and then there won't be any ramifications if they choose to decline."
The independent report is due to be finished this week.
Its completion will help Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers' strategy on tackling the matter with the State Government.
"We want to highlight why this region is a priority, and while we're hopeful, if the other side (Blue Energy) can show there is a greater economic benefit for the two licences to be renewed, then it'll go their way," Ms Grima said.
Blue Energy was contacted, however, did not wish to comment.