In its latest annual report tabled in State Parliament, the EPA of Western Australia has set out its priorities in assessing the environmental impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing of onshore gas reserves. It also reaffirms the EPA’s view that WA’s regulatory framework is sufficient to manage any risks associated with current onshore gas exploration activities.

The report says six “low-level, proof of concept” proposals involving hydraulic fracturing have been assessed in WA.

In each case, the potential impacts were not sufficient enough to warrant formal environmental impact assessment because:

  • The hydraulic fracture stimulation is proposed to occur at significant depths (well below aquifers), ranging from 1,500 m to 3,500 m across the proposals. In each case, there is significant vertical separation with impermeable barriers of rock, shale or other layers that do not transmit water between the fracturing zone and fresh water aquifers.
  • The EPA is satisfied with the regulation of well drilling, casing construction, and well rehabilitation and closure by the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP). In particular, it is confident that there is a negligible risk of leakage between aquifers, introduction of contaminants to other aquifers, and from abandonment of wells.
  • The management, storage and disposal of produced water, which contains contaminants associated with fracking fluid, is appropriate to manage risks, given the quantities involved and the toxicity of the materials.
  • Through DMP’s regulation, each proposal is subject to the approval of Environment Plans that are required to demonstrate that environmental risks of the activity will continuously be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable.

The report has been welcomed by APPEA, with Chief Operating Officer Western Region, Stedman Ellis, describing it as confirmation that current exploration proposals involving hydraulic fracturing in the Kimberley and Mid-West regions posed minimal risk to the environment.

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