Election 2013 Western Australia March 9

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iT Matters Fracking

Excluding health from the Fracking debate in WA

Recently Mines Minister Moore intervened to stifle public debate on Fracking at open forums.

This is a very alarming practice by the Barnett Liberal Government and certainly warrants a high level of scrutiny.

Dr George Crisp was obstructed from attending.

He states 'It is not the place of a government or its ministers to willfully restrict access to relevant information or expert opinion, and intervening in public meetings in this way should indeed be scrutinised by the media.'

His full account follows.

Today's article in the West Australian "Minister Moore attacked over gas forums" only touches on the key issue here.

It is not the place of a government or its ministers to willfully restrict access to relevant information or expert opinion, and intervening in public meetings in this way should indeed be scrutinised by the media.

Before recounting the details, I would make the point that Doctors for the Environment are a non-governmental medical organisation who have interest and expertise in the health implications arising from environmental change, and that the talk in question related to the published health information on this subject.

Following the presentation that I made at Parliament house in May 2012 on behalf of DEA, I was approached by the National Party to make a similar presentation on the potential public health impacts of unconventional shale gas extraction, and "fracking", at three upcoming meetings in the wheat-belt North of Perth (where drilling and fracking was underway). 

I was informed by the Nationals that these community meetings had been arranged by them to allow local communities to better understand the process, benefits and risks that may arise as a consequence of this drilling process and associated activities. 

My attendance was confirmed and just one week prior to the first events I was contacted and informed that I would no longer be allowed to participate. The communication read:

Minister Norman Moore has stated that none of the Department of Mining and Petroleum speakers would be allowed to speak if they shared the floor with Doctors for the Environment.  This has been backed up by the Industry Association. ....  My organising group has decided to accede to this demand and I have to tell you that you will not be allowed to speak from the dais at the Dongara and Eneabba workshops on the 15th or an alternative speaker at the Gingin workshop on the 22nd. 

Minister Moore did indeed confirm in his response to a question in Parliament from Alison Xamon MLC on Tuesday 12th of June that; 

  • he had been approached by the Nationals to allow DMP staff to attend public meetings, 
  • he readily agreed on the basis these members had expertise and can provide "quite dispassionate technical explanation" on how unconventional gas extraction can take place , 
  • he liased with Petroluem peak body APPEA on this matter,
  • he withdrew this offer when he learned that "other people" were coming that might provide a "different point of view" and this may result in some "disputation".

(available on Hansard p3308c-3309a)

So it would seem that Minister Moore's idea of a "public community meeting" is one where industry bodies and the Dept of Mines and Petroleum get to put their case without any differing or dissenting views. 

It should also be noted that the particular view he was objecting to in this instance was on public health from a doctors organisation.

We are not the only medical group to have serious concerns.

Around the world, where this activity is occurring, there are many organisations including government health bodies that share these concerns ( eg Chief Medical Officer's recommendations Concerning Shale Gas Development.. , Dept of Health New Brunswick,  Canada )

It is also of interest that Minister Moore seems at odds with his department as to whether advice has been sought from Health Department or not.

Alison Xamon MLC asked the minister if the Dept of Health was contacted and if so was a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) requested.

The Minister has responded on the 12th June 2012, that "at no point has DMP requested DoH to become involved"

( Hansard 12th June p3350-3351a).

The  minutes from the Interagency Working Group - from Oct 2011-  note that DoH representatives have been present at this meeting (and attended the subsequent meetings) and did in fact raise the issue of HIA.

However, this didn't not occur, there is no explanation as to why and it appears to have been dropped from the agenda. 

As a bare minimum, there should be a full health and environmental impact assessment performed by those with relevant expertise and there should be complete monitoring of water and air quality before, during and after drilling and fracking activity to determine risk for human exposure to toxic substances.

Both of these were recommended by the Royal Society in their recent review of this technology in the UK.

Minister Moore like to take note of their advice as well as ours.

The #wa2013vote website will be kept online so politicians promises and statements can be checked until the end of next WA election in 2017, and after.