At the first Melbourne hearing for the inquiry into unconventional gas in Victoria, farmers have demanded the government keep Victoria Gasfield Free.
To demonstrate the risk an unconventional gas industry poses to our foodbowls, Victorian farmers set up a stall of fresh produce on the steps of Parliament House.
One million hectares of Western Victoria and 87 per cent of Gippsland is currently under exploration licence for coal and unconventional gas, threatening the livelihoods of regional communities.
Representatives from communities that are covered by licences for coal and gas attended the hearing in a strong demonstration of the depth of community opposition to the industry.
Victorian farming communities have commissioned research to examine whether Victoria actually needs to frack for more gas. Farmers have crowdfunded to have research undertaken by the University of Melbourne.
“We cannot believe that the government is thinking of approving these invasive gas fields on our best farmland without having investigated whether we even need the gas,” says Jill Smith a farmer from Branxholme.
“So we have taken it upon ourselves to get the best experts to look into gas demand. We think every Victorian gas user is being led up the garden path by the gas industry on this one.
“The gas industry are driving gas prices up by exporting to Asia and now they’re telling us the solution is to frack Gippsland and the Western Districts?
“We don’t buy it and it looks like the experts are telling us there are better solutions.”
“The economics of gas have fundamentally shifted. In fact, domestic gas use in Eastern Australia peaked three years ago,” Melbourne University energy expert Tim Forcey will tell the Inquiry.
“Its now cheaper for many households and businesses to heat buildings with electric heat pumps rather than using gas, and this will add to a significant drop in gas demand in Victoria over the next decade.
“We already know that there is no economic reason to connect any new house or suburb to the gas grid, and that doing so will lock households and businesses into high energy bills for decades”.
“The government needs to start work on an Integrated Resource Plan: We need to look at ways to economically reduce gas use, rather than simply assuming we need to drill for more,” he said.
The Inquiry into Unconventional Gas in Victoria today heard that the Victorian gas industry may be facing a “death spiral” as households disconnect from the gas grid.
Melbourne University energy expert Tim Forcey said that consumers are beginning to realize that it costs less to heat their homes, hot water and cook with efficient electrical appliances rather than gas.
“The economics of gas have changed. As a result- gas demand in Eastern Australia is declining- and will continue to decline across all sectors: electricity generation, industry, homes and commercial buildings”
“As consumers economically disconnect from the gas grid – those that remain must pay the cost. This leads to what is known as the gas grid “death spiral” – where fixed charges go up, more people leave the gas grid – and fixed charges go up again – and so forth.”
Mr Forcey pointed out that gas use in eastern Australia had peaked in 2012 and that the Australian Energy Market Operator was projecting falls of between 15 and 39 percent over the next 10 years.
He also said that preliminary results from the University’s research indicated that gas use could fall even more than the market operator was suggesting “Perhaps falling by up to 50% – in ten years time.”
He also called for Victoria to develop and Integrated Resource Plan IRP, that examines energy efficiency and fuel switching opportunities rather than only looking at ways to increase supply.
In addition to the 62 rural communities who have declared themselves Coal and Gas Free, new polling commissioned by The Greens highlights the strong opposition to the unconventional gas industry in metropolitan areas.
“Community resistance to this industry is enormous across regional Victoria” said Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Cam Walker. “More than 60 communities have already declared themselves coal and/or gasfield free.”
“As yet, environmental groups have not worked deeply in metropolitan areas on the issue of unconventional gas. Yet the polling carried out in the seats of Brunswick and Prahran already shows a depth of opposition that should make all political parties pay attention.”
When asked “Do you support or oppose the development of coal seam gas and fracking in Victoria?”, 70% of all respondents opposed the industry, while only 17% of voters support an unconventional gas industry. This issue is one that will shift votes: 75% of South West Coast respondents oppose onshore gas drilling, including 68% of LNP voters.
“As the state inquiry into the unconventional gas industry continues public hearings today, the message for all parties is clear: this industry has no social license to operate in the areas where drilling would occur.” according to Friends of the Earth campaign coordinator. “And there is strong opposition in metro communities.”
“The Inquiry offers our state the best chance it will ever have to stop this destructive industry before it gets established. Given the known contamination dangers of this industry, the negative impacts it will have on current farming and economic activity, and the deep community opposition, the only logical outcome of the inquiry must be a permanent ban on unconventional gas drilling and fracking”.