Freedom of information documents show the Western Australian bureaucracy is struggling to implement its own fracking recommendations, and Lock the Gate Alliance says the recent change in WA leadership is an opportunity for the government to abandon fracking before it’s too late.
The documents (available here and here), published today, reveal the Health Department provided incorrect advice in response to a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) submitted by American fracking company Black Mountain for an exploratory frack proposal of 20 wells as part of its Valhalla Project in the Kimberley.
The fracking inquiry was clear that a site-specific HRA must be completed and submitted to the Health Department for all fracking projects:
- RECOMMENDATION 18: Site-specific health risk assessments, that have been peer-reviewed and provided to the Western Australian Department of Health, should be required for all unconventional oil and gas proposals associated with hydraulic fracture stimulation, addressing potential short and long-term health impacts.
But the FOI documents show Health Department staff erroneously claiming that because the frack project was more than two kilometres from a town or potable water source, there was no need for a HRA. It appears the department has confused this recommendation with the rule that there be no fracking projects whatsoever within two kilometres of a populated area or a gazetted drinking water area (Rec 19).
The documents also show the Health Department staffer wrongly suggesting that the Environmental Protection Authority, which was originally sent the HRA, should not have referred the HRA on to the Health Department. In fact, government guidelines (See diagram on page 3) show the EPA followed the correct procedure, and shows the Health Department should not have engaged directly with Black Mountain at all.
The response from the Health Department also came shortly after, in late 2021, the EPA determined the scope for an environmental impact assessment for Black Mountain’s appraisal well. This included the direction that a "peer-reviewed, site-specific human health risk assessments will be provided to the Department of Health for comment” (pg 15-18).
The release of the internal correspondence comes after a separate tranche of FOI documents revealed the WA Government considered allowing banned cancer causing chemicals as part of the fracking process, contradicting its own health policy.
Lock the Gate Alliance WA coordinator Claire McKinnon said the Health Department’s refusal to consider Black Mountain’s Health Risk Assessment showed there was a critical lack of understanding about how fracking projects should be assessed within the WA bureaucracy.
“We believe the Health Department has provided incorrect advice to Black Mountain and on behalf of the EPA,” she said.
“It’s really troubling to see the Health Department wrongly pushing back against the very clear requirement that a site-specific health risk assessment be conducted for all fracking projects. It’s also shocking to see the Health Department dealing directly with Black Mountain, when, according to the guidelines, this should be done at arm’s length via the EPA.
“In America, where fracking is more widespread, numerous independent studies, including from Yale University, have demonstrated a link between fracking and poor health, especially for unborn children, young children, and the elderly.
“Nearly five years after the WA Government gave the fracking industry permission to lay waste to parts of the Kimberley, and gave Black Mountain special conditional permission to export gas from the Valhalla Project, it seems the bureaucracy still hasn’t caught up.
“There are serious risks associated with fracking that will never be overcome - it is much safer to simply ban this polluting industry.
“Roger Cook held the health portfolio for 13 years, including while in opposition. He should recognise that the health risks posed by a runaway fracking industry is unacceptable, particularly when the bureaucracy can’t even keep pace.
“Mark McGowan should never have given the go ahead to fracking. Now is the perfect opportunity for soon-to-be-Premier Cook to gracefully walk back from that fateful decision.
“The health of Western Australians must not be put at risk just so multinational fracking companies can make a quick and dirty dollar.”