Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fracking: bad in USA, worse in Western Australia

The oil and gas industry plans to develop huge sections of the mid-west, the south-west, and the Kimberley.

I moved to Perth in June last year from a small, rural town in central Pennsylvania. There I witnessed first-hand the impact of the “fracking” boom — the rapid exploitation of the unconventional gas resources in the Marcellus shale play.

It hit rural Pennsylvania particularly hard because it is economically depressed, struggling to make ends meet by farming and what's left of manufacturing that has not been outsourced to China, Mexico, and other exploitable labour pools.

That might sound odd because the promise of fracking is that it will provide jobs and royalty income. The reality, however, is that the royalties do not last long and do not make up for poisoned land and water that are the by-products of the fracking industry.

Most towns lost money from fracking because the state did not levy enough tax to pay for all the road repairs that were necessary after heavy trucks invaded the formerly quiet, rural landscapes.

It affected the mental and physical health of residents, most of whom chose to live in the country because it was quiet. Overnight, these towns were transformed into industrial landscapes, with endless streams of trucks, construction noise, forests levelled for pipelines, constant noise from compressor stations, and the night sky lit up by weeks of flaring at the well heads.

Intense industry

People in Pennsylvania experienced the transformation of their land from a beautifully forested countryside to intense industrialisation within a couple of years. The tragedy is that in many cases, they welcomed the industry, believing the industry's stories of low impact, carefully managed risk and economic benefits.

Pennsylvania did not know what it was getting into, but it has found out the hard way. Water has been poisoned, air polluted, landscapes utterly transformed. The reason Pennsylvania did not know better was because the US government, lead by two oil and gas men — then-US President George Bush and then-US Vice President Dick Cheney—exempted the industry from environmental regulations. In particular, they allowed the industry to forego baseline testing.

So when communities started to notice symptoms of water and air pollution, the industry could claim that its activities were not responsible because there were no baselines to measure the impact of its activities against. To this day, the industry will claim that its activities do not pollute air and water, but this is pure Orwellian double-speak. People know their illnesses are the result of the industry, but cannot prove it because there are no baseline studies that would have incriminated the industry.

When I moved to Perth I thought I was escaping the tragedy of fracking. No one in their right minds would think of fracking in Western Australia, the driest part of the driest continent on Earth. Fracking is an insanely water-intensive operation, requiring about 90 Olympic-size swimming pools of water — about 30 million litres — per well, per frack.

Because of the spatial intensity of a commercial fracking operation, you need thousands of wells and you need to frack them repeatedly. None of that water can be returned to the water cycle because it is highly toxic, so you are talking about the permanent removal of millions of litres of fresh drinking water from WA's supplies.

Fracking in WA

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the oil and gas industry plans to develop huge sections of the mid-west, the south-west, and the Kimberley. Much of this land is highly productive agricultural land or very sensitive natural heritage, home by a factor of ten to a greater diversity of plant species than all of North America — and some of the most beautiful landscape that I have ever seen.

Various gas companies have now been granted exploration permits for all of these areas. As I saw in Pennsylvania, once a company gets its exploration permit, full exploitation is almost inevitable. It is not going to spend millions of its shareholders' dollars to explore and not give them a return on investment. The industry is poised for full mobilisation, even as their spin doctors downplay the inevitable for the public.

By some estimates, there will need to be 100,000 wells to fully extract WA's gas reserves. With those wells come massive increases in roads and traffic, pipelines, compressor stations, and the rest of the infrastructure. This represents the industrialisation of WA's rural and farming areas, as well as the increased drawdown of water from aquifers.

The aquifers are already 25–30% below normal levels. Perth has had to build two desalination plants — an extremely expensive admission that the region faces a severe, long-term water crisis. At least farming and recreational uses of water permit that water to return to the water cycle — fracking requires its permanent extraction.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association claims WA is different from Pennsylvania, so the gas can be extracted without the problems experienced in the US. If WA were so different, then industry engineers would obviously use a different extraction process. WA has the same kind of rock — shale — and will use the same process — fracking. If anything, the differences in WA's geology should be cause for more concern — the fragility of its landscapes, the vulnerability of its aquifers, and its complex seismic fault-lines are reasons to be more cautious.

I have heard various politicians claim that WA has world class regulations that will make fracking safe. I have read WA's regulations—they are publicly available on the Department of Mines and Petroleum's (DMP) website.

They are just as bad as Pennsylvania's. They allow industry to regulate itself and they give the DMP the responsibility for regulatory oversight. This is the same department that recruits the industry to develop the gas and increases its revenue by granting licences. There will be no reason to deny a license anyway because the industry will be writing the environmental impact report that will give department regulators the cover they need to take any risks necessary.

These regulations are just window dressing to make the industry look good. If the WA government was really serious about protecting its citizens and land, it would create an independent regulatory agency and mandate independent environmental assessment for every well.

WA would also institute transparency, prohibit known toxins from the fracking fluid, and implement significant fines for violations. This is what WA's own 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into Fracking recommended, but which the Department has refused to adopt.

Neither the inquiry nor the CSIRO give unqualified support for fracking; nor do they claim that it is safe. The reports actually say that fracking can be done safely with extensive regulatory reform and rigorous adherence to best practices. But the industry, with government blessing, has been allowed to use cheaper alternatives. Government regulations allow economics to determine what the industry does, not the safety of citizens or the protection of land and water.

Many reputable studies show that fracking can never be done safely no matter what practices are used. Up to 50% of wells leak after 15 years, and about 5% leak immediately. The technological challenge of fracking means that very slight deviations from perfection cause leaks.

That technological challenge ripples through the whole industry, from well head to end-user. The Porter Ranch pipeline leak in California caused the worst natural gas disaster in history. There is no way to guarantee that wells and pipelines will not leak; it is a risk that governments and industry assure us can be mitigated. Evidence proves that this faith in industry perfection is a mistake.

If WA goes ahead with its plans to frack huge sections of its farm land and natural heritage, it will have a similar outcome to Pennsylvania's: industrialisation of the rural landscape, poisoned water, polluted air, temporary jobs that disappear after the first phase, and the collapse of the whole industry after less than a decade.

Short-lived industry

Where will this gas go? Will it give WA residents lower energy bills? Absolutely not: all the gas will go to offshore Liquid Natural Gas plants, like the one Chevron is building near Port Headland, where it will be shipped to fuel China's and India's economies.

WA's irreplaceable natural heritage and its locally sustainable agriculture and tourism industries will be destroyed so that multinationals like Chevron can make a quick profit. And then, like all resource-dependent economies, WA's unconventional gas will go bust, leaving WA holding the bag.

I see this as an imminent threat to everything I have come to love about WA, so I joined No Fracking WAy, a grassroots organisation dedicated to educating Perth about fracking. It is a group that has been in existence for about four years and has made a lot of progress in raising awareness.

We have partnered with Lock the Gate, Frack Free Future, The Wilderness Society and to make fracking an election issue. Where a politician stands on fracking is a good indication of where he or she stands generally: pro-fracking is a clear indication that the politician puts industry first; anti-fracking means that the politician probably has a conscience and will put citizens first.

Politicians interested in helping WA develop its energy economy would support development of its extraordinary solar and wind resources instead of gas.

It would be good to develop some international exchange between activists in Pennsylvania and WA. Pennsylvania could use some of the Australian pragmatism and direct, no-nonsense approach to injustice and obvious facts. WA could use some of the knowledge that Pennsylvanian activists have collected to help debunk industry and government claims.

The parallels between what industry said to Pennsylvania and what it is saying to WA are striking. The difference is that the people of WA have an opportunity to learn from what happened in Pennsylvania and lock the industry out before it can get a foothold.

[This article by Drew Hubbell was first published in Green Left Weekly June 18, 2016.]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Refugee rights and marriage equality rallies on Saturday

Two important rallies will be on tomorrow (Saturday) for Refugee Rights and Marriage Equality. Unfortunately, the two rallies clash even though both are worth supporting. Details for both are below:

Freo Safe Harbour Refugee Rally and Walk—A 2016 World Refugee Week event

Saturday 25 June

12 PM — Event start at Pioneer Reserve (next to Freo Train Station)

12:15 PM — Welcome to Country and speakers

1 PM — Walk

A rally to establish Fremantle with pride as a place of safety for asylum seekers and refugees, and a walk through the heart of Freo in solidarity.

Attend on Facebook:

Rally for Marriage Equality (Perth)

With the federal election fast approaching, join Equal Love in this national protest to ensure that marriage equality and LGBTI rights remain a hot topic and election issue.

DATE: Saturday June 25
TIME: 1pm
PLACE: Murray St Mall

Attend on Facebook:

Labor's proposed budget cuts ought to be slammed

The Labor Party announced a series of “savings” measures on June 10, including $1 billion worth of Abbott/Turnbull cuts that had previously been blocked in the Senate.

It has tried to make the attacks appear palatable by claiming they are directed at higher income families. However the truth is they reaffirm that a future Labor government's direction will be more about cutting government spending than raising revenue from the big end of town.

Further, they will have bigger impacts on ordinary workers than appears evident at first glance.

The highest profile cut is the proposed abolition of the Family Tax Benefit (FTB) Part A supplement to families earning over $100,000 per year. They claim this will save the government $500 million over the four years of forward estimates and over $2 billion in ten years.

The Supplement to FTB Part A is for an annual bonus of up to $726 which may not seem much to someone on $100,000. However it is important to remember that this is family income that is being measured. That is a couple who each earn $50,000 — hardly extravagant wages — would be affected by this policy.

Of greater concern is that this cut will not be indexed so over time it will affect increasing numbers of workers.

Labor is also planning to save $2.3 billion by continuing the Coalition's freezing of payment thresholds for private health insurance rebates. The community as a whole would be better off if all the money currently spent on subsidising private health insurance were redirected straight into the public health system.

However, after significant government campaigns to pressure people into taking out private health insurance, to cut the rebate paid is another slug on ordinary workers.

There are also a number of Abbott/Turnbull cuts — that Labor said “will never pass the parliament” — that Labor is now planning to implement. One of these is the change to the higher education indexation program. This will mean that graduates will have to start paying back student debt sooner: another slug on ordinary workers.

And there is no talk from Labor about reversing the cuts in former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's 2014 horror budget — which Labor and Greens voted for in large measure when they passed the supply bills. These included cuts to the ABC and SBS, the CSIRO and Aboriginal services.

Instead of slugging ordinary working families for hundreds of millions of dollars, Socialist Alliance says tax the super-rich. Returning to the 49% corporate tax rate of the 1980s and taking steps to close the loopholes that allow the multi-millionaires and billionaires to hide their taxable wealth in tax havens would net far more for the budget. These measures would be of significant benefit to the majority, creating jobs and fighting climate change.

The Socialist Alliance is for measures that will help more people. By taxing the corporations adequately, we could raise Centrelink payments to allow a decent standard of living, expand public housing to solve the housing crisis and fund free and accessible childcare. This is what pro-people policies look like.

In this election campaign, Labor has tacked to the left by promising some modest measures such as reform of negative gearing and criticising treasurer Scott Morrison's cuts to corporate tax, for instance.

However, the detail of the ALP's planned “savings” shows the party in its true colours. The policy direction they will implement in government is not so different from the Liberals.

It took mass protests — such as the March in March movement — to stall significant parts of Abbott's budget in 2014. Whichever capitalist party wins the July 2 election, we need to be prepared to protest again to defend our rights.

[This article by Socialist Alliance WA senate candidate Kamala Emanuel first appeared in Green Left Weekly. Photo from March in May protest in 2014.]

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How to vote Socialist Alliance in WA

The Socialist Alliance is recommending a vote in Fremantle with these preferences:

1 Chris Jenkins (Socialist Alliance)
2 Kate Davis (The Greens)
3 Josh Wilson (ALP)
4 Mick Connolly (Mature Australia)
5 Pierrette Kelly (Liberal)

In the senate, we suggest:

1 Group G: Socialist Alliance
2 Group J: The Greens
3 Group M: The Arts Party
4 Group O: Renewable Energy Party
5 Group S: Marijuana (HEMP) Party/Sex Party
6 Group N: Australian Cyclists Party
7 Group K: Animal Justice Party
8 Group D: Australian Labor Party

For National recommendations, check:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Join the Socialist Alliance election campaign

It’s that exciting time of the year: join the Socialist Alliance election campaign!

Your contribution and participation in this election campaign is highly regarded. Help us spread the word: Another world is possible!

This is how you can support our campaign:
1) Volunteer for letter boxing. Initially, we are prioritising the Fremantle electorate; please contact Judith at 0406-225-179 or If you prefer to letter box in other areas, please contact Kamala on 0413 976 638 or
2) Make a donation (big or small) at
3) Volunteer now for polling day – Please contact Sam 0412-751-508 or use this online form.
4) Attend one or more of the events in the list below. Show your support to the candidates by spreading the word and letting your friends, family and people in your community about these events.
5) Have fun! Join the election party!! (Saturday 2 July 2016, from 6pm at 21a Jarvis St, O'Connor)

· Walyalup/Fremantle Branch meeting on Thursday 16 June 6pm, (phone Chris 0415 922 740 for details). We will be discussing election preferences and coordinating adventures campaign activities over a hot meal and drinks.

· Debate for the Federal Seat of Fremantle on Tuesday 21 June 5:45pm, The University of Notre Dame Australia, Tannock Hall of Education (ND4) Corner Cliff and Croke Streets, Fremantle. It will be good fun, come and support Chris. More info: here.

· Socialist Alliance election rally on Thursday 23 June, the Perth Activist Centre. This is THE opportunity for your friends, neighbours and family to meet those your support. Please share the Facebook event.

· Freo Safe Harbour Refugee Rally and Walk on Saturday 25 June at 12pm, at Pioneer Reserve, opposite the Fremantle train station. More info: here.

· Marriage Equality Rally on Saturday 25 June at 1pm Murray Street Mall.