In April 2012, the Victorian and Federal governments jointly declared that experimental technology could turn Gippsland into a coal export region the size of the Pilbara.
Shortly after, the Minerals Council of Australia declared in a submission to a government inquiry that ‘there is enormous potential for Coal Seam Methane (CSG) industry in Victoria’.
Since then, and following intense community backlash, mining companies have expressed interest in Western Victoria, ranging from Geelong until the South Australian border.
Victoria is experiencing a rush of exploration for ‘unconventional’ gas and experimental new coal projects, with large swathes of the state now under coal, coal seam gas, shale gas, or tight gas exploration licenses.
But local communities in Gippsland and Western Victoria are standing up and demanding a state with a clean and safe energy future.
Throughout 2012, almost 2000 individuals, 59 organisations and six local councils called for the State Government to institute a moratorium (ban) on all new coal and unconventional gas explorations and developments until they can be scientifically proven to be safe. In August 2012 the State Government announced a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Fracking is a dangerous process used to extract gas and oil from deposits that were previously considered too difficult to exploit. Water, sand and a cocktail of different chemicals are pumped underground at huge pressure in order to fracture open the ground and allow the gas to escape.
Following continued pressure from Quit Coal, Friends of the Earth and communities all across Victoria, the Liberal State Government committed to a moratorium on the industry until 2015. Now the current Labor State Government has said they will conduct a 12-month parliamentary inquiry into the industry, which will start some time this year.
While this was a huge step, this moratorium does not do nearly enough. The moratorium on fracking only addresses risks associated with one element of the coal and gas industries. Gippsland also contains a large number of shallow unconventional gas deposits that do not require fracking, but do pose a great threat to health, farmland, communities and water. Throughout the process of the parliamentary inquiry, we will be fighting hard to ensure that the voices of the community are heard above those of the mining companies.
Declaring your community ‘coal and gas field free’
Governments all over Australia have shown that they are unwilling to stand up to fossil fuel industries and protect local communities from the harmful effects on their health to safeguard our water, to conserve our ability to produce food and to address the reality of climate change.
It is now up to ordinary people to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry and defend the things that are most important to us.
In Victoria, an exciting movement is growing. Faced with the imminent threat of unconventional gas fracking, all different kinds of communities are declaring their towns ‘Gasfield Free’ or ‘Coal and Gasfield Free’, depending on the licence they are covered by. This involves a process modelled on that used in Northern NSW, where many towns have already protected themselves against exploration and mining. The process begins with a town meeting where the people present decide whether they would like to declare their home ‘Coal and Gas field free’. More meetings follow, unifying and organising the people who want to take action against the exploration licences in their area. These residents then proceed door-to-door and survey the entire community asking the question: ‘Do you want to declare your community Coal and Gas field free?’
Since 2012, scores of Victorian towns have gone through this process. Each town then holds a personal and moving declaration day, where they proclaim that they are ‘Gasfield Free’! Many other Gippsland and Western Victoria communities are starting or undergoing this process RIGHT NOW.
This community strategy for resisting inappropriate and dangerous mining projects takes the power away from governments, influenced by the fossil fuel lobby, and gives the power back to local communities in deciding their future.
People power can stop the Coal and Gas expansion in Victoria.
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