The community of Seaspray have known for some time that they might need to risk arrest in order to protect their community, they just didn’t know when. That time may be about to arrive.
Since Christmas, the community has been waiting to hear whether or not Energy Minister Russell Northe will approve Lakes Oil’s application to carry out horizontal drilling for gas in the area. This process is conveniently not covered by the current moratorium.
After Lakes Oil started trucking in crushed rock and preparing roads last week, the community started preparing itself for the likelihood of having to carry out a peaceful blockade to protect their land, health and water from this dangerous industry.
Here is a bit of background about Seaspray:
The small rural community of Seaspray is situated towards the southern end of the Ninety Mile Beach. With a population of approx 300, it is a popular tourist destination renowned for it’s pristine beach, surfing, fishing and swimming. Seaspray is also a thriving sheep, cattle and dairy farming community and is home to the state’s largest vegetable grower. The area has two unconventional gas mining exploration licenses covering the entire township and surrounds, a license for oil & tight gas and a license for coal seam gas (CSG).
About this time last year, Lakes Oil completed de-watering and flaring off at one of their wells which is located 100 metres from Merrimens creek, which supplies drinking water to Seaspray and is used for farming irrigation. Locals were informed by a letter delivered the night before the work was to begin. The parents from the Seaspray Primary School, which is less than one kilometre away from the well, sent a joint letter to the Premier and Health Minister to voice their concerns. They did not receive a reply.
In May 2013, locals began a door-to-door survey conducted in Seaspray and the surrounding areas, asking one question.
‘Do you want to declare Seaspray Gasfield Free?’
An overwhelming 98% of residents said ‘Yes’.
In July, the community declared themselves ‘Gasfield Free’ by creating a huge human sign on Seaspray beach. Over 650 people from the local area & right across Gippsland came to support them.
In November, in response to growing community opposition to the unconventional gas industry, the Victorian state government announced that it was extending the moratorium on fracking until July 2015, a convenient 6 months after the state election. Whilst this was a fantastic indication of the power of the communities in Victoria, the moratorium does not cover other exploration works (such as drilling and flaring off) and does not cover exploration licences that have already been granted.
Since then, the opposition to both tight gas and coal seam gas exploration both in Seaspray and across the state has continued to grow. Seven other communities have declared themselves Gasfield Free in Gippsland and the first community in Western Victoria, Deans Marsh declared last month. There are more than 20 communities around the state currently undergoing the same surveying process.
As we continue to wait to hear of the outcome of the Lakes Oil application, the community has been told there will be a department decision by the end of June 2014, although some sources say a decision will be made this month. The preparation of roads in the area by Lakes Oil indicates that they believe work will commence soon.
The community of Seaspray has met and decided that if the government abandons them and approves this license, they will be blockading the site. They have pledged:
“We will do whatever it takes to stop Lakes Oil; including taking part in peaceful non-violent direct action and risking arrest to protect our community from this threat.”
If they are given no choice but to conduct a blockade as protectors of their land, their water and their community, Seaspray will be calling on support from right across Victoria. Locals have begun setting up camp and invite you to join them at ‘Camp Seaspray’ when the time comes. While the flow of information is less than steady from the government, Quit Coal will be updating people with everything we know. What we do know is that whilst this is the first town to be threatened by the industry, it may not be the last. We need to send the government a clear message from the very beginning: The strength of our communities will keep Victoria Gasfield Free.