In a show of determination and courage, residents of Seaspray have taken a pledge to “do whatever it takes to protect [the] water, soil and air, even if it means taking part in peaceful direct action and risking arrest”. Residents took the pledge near the site of the Wombat 5 drill site which Lakes Oil, a company backed by Gina Rinehart, have earmarked for imminent extraction of its tight gas reserves.
Despite a successful the campaign by Friends of the Earth, Lock the Gate and Quit Coal to have the moratorium on the hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) process extended until 2015, Lakes Oil claim to have a new ‘horizontal drilling’ technique, which will not be covered by the moratorium.
Lakes Oil’s Rob Annells said in The LaTrobe Valley Express last year that the process:
would involve a horizontal drill at 1500 metres below the surface. As you drill vertically down, the rock gets tighter and tighter. The rock that we’ll be accessing was on the surface millions of years ago, so the permeability is better than what you’re looking at another 1000m deeper… by keeping ourselves within that top weathered zone and going horizontal within it, we believe we’ll get that (gas) flow naturally, without any artificial stimulation, which hopefully will be commercial.
The company wish to proceed with the project despite 96% of the Seaspray community opting to declare their town gasfield free last year, and in direct contradiction to Premier Napthine’s assurance in November that “there will be no onshore gas industry in Victoria unless it’s absolutely safe”. The process Lakes Oil wants to use is dangerous because of a shallow aquifer near the well, which could easily become contaminated by fugitive methane emissions. There are also fears that the casing of the well may fail and contaminate the water, which is extremely likely after several years.
Lock the Gate’s Victorian co-ordinator, Urlsula Alquier laid down an election year ultimatum to the government and their junior coalition partners:
Without assurance from [Victorian National Party leader] Mr Ryan and the Premier to protect rural communities like Seaspray as promised in November, we will be left with no other option but to commence peaceful direct action and blockade Lakes Oil if they attempt to drill here again.
Quit Coal and CounterAct, campaigns running out of Friends of the Earth, have been working to train and support the local community in developing skills that they will require to successfully deploy peaceful direct action tactics and have also promised to actively support the community should the need for such non-violent resistance arise.
The community’s pledge is even more courageous in the light of the current push by the Napthine government to make changes to the Summary Offences and Sentencing Act. The changes to the laws will mean that police will have increased powers to issue move-on notices to demonstrations, pickets, and blockades, and to issue on-the-spot fines of approximately $700. Furthermore, the new police powers will mean that individuals may be barred from areas like Melbourne CBD or Seaspray for up to 12 months, and face prison sentences of up to two years if they do not comply.
Residents from Seaspray, along with Quit Coal and Friends of the Earth activists were amongst the 3000 strong, union-led group that rallied in Melbourne city on Tuesday February 18th. They called for an end to Napthine’s ‘Silencing Act’ and demanded that the government uphold the right to demonstrate.
We commend the brave residents of Seaspray and other communities in Victoria who are preparing to take whatever action necessary to protect the environment from the fossil fuel industry. Their courage and fortitude are inspiring and will be essential in the continued struggle against powerful corporate interests and a repressive government.