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WA Government quietly approves fracking company’s 100 million litre water licence in Kimberley

The WA Government has quietly approved a groundwater extraction licence that would allow an overseas-based fracking company to take 100 million litres each year.

It's likely to be the first time a water licence has been issued to a fracking company since the WA Government overturned the moratorium on fracking in 2018. While this new licence is technically an amalgamation of three existing licences that were previously held by fracking company Buru Energy, concerned community groups question why Black Mountain has been granted such a large water take. 

Groups are also concerned there was insufficient scrutiny by the department as to whether Black Mountain truly requires the full 100 million litres for its claimed purposes of the maintenance of unconventional gas wells, dust suppression, mining camp purposes, stock watering and rehabilitation purposes”.

While the state’s water department (DWER) approved Black Mountain Energy’s water licence on May 2, no public statement was issued, and the only way to find evidence of the licence’s approval is by searching the company’s Australian subsidiary, Bennett Resources, on the WA Government’s Water Register website.

Meanwhile, the company’s associated “Valhalla” exploratory gas fracking project is still undergoing environmental assessment, and a public consultation process still needs to be conducted.

If Valhalla is approved, Black Mountain would drill 20 exploration wells between 2 km and 4 km deep and hydraulically fracture them in up to 70 stages each. It would also require an additional two billion litres of water.

Valhalla is also only an exploration project. Black Mountain’s website makes it clear the company wishes to expand to full scale production. If this occurs, it would require the drilling and fracking of many hundreds of wells. An export-scale project would also require a 1100km high-pressure gas pipeline to the Pilbara, processing facilities, pumping stations, flare stacks, and heavy-vehicle access roads. 

Environs Kimberley Director of Strategy Martin Pritchard said, “If Black Mountain goes into full production with hundreds of wells, the volume of precious groundwater required would be unimaginable.

“This incremental threat of enormous levels of precious groundwater extraction shows why fracking must not be allowed to take-off in the Kimberley. 

“Giving Black Mountain’s Valhalla Project the go ahead risks opening up the Kimberley to full-scale industrialisation by petroleum companies eager to get at the unconventional gas within the Canning Basin. This would ignite a carbon bomb, at a time when increasingly severe heat waves caused by the burning of fossil fuels and resulting climate change is putting the Kimberley at risk of becoming unlivable.”

Lock the Gate Alliance WA spokesperson Simone van Hattem said, “Giving an overseas fracking company access to 100 million litres of groundwater is a recipe for disaster.

“Unconventional gas extraction contaminates groundwater wherever it occurs, and contaminated water poses a risk to people’s health and the environment.

“It’s totally reckless for the WA Government to have granted this licence to Black Mountain with such limited scrutiny.”

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