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South-East fracking emissions eclipse renewable energy savings: green groups

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An ongoing commitment to fracking in the South-East “completely undermines” the Weatherill Government’s “leadership” on renewables, environmental campaigners claim.

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Premier Jay Weatherill, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, SA Best leader Nick Xenophon and Greens leader Mark Parnell today spruiked their respective environmental credentials in a debate hosted by a collection of community groups, with a fracking ban looming as a potentially decisive policy in determining who governs SA.

Troy Bell, the independent frontrunner in the South-East seat of Mount Gambier, was the driving force behind the Liberal party room’s adoption of a 10-year moratorium on unconventional gas exploration and extraction in the region – a policy that put it at odds with not just Labor, but the federal Coalition.

It also, unusually, puts it in cahoots with the Greens, who have long pushed for a fracking ban.

Bell since quit the Liberals after being charged with a string of dishonesty offences, which he is contesting in court. An Australian Forest Products Association-commissioned ReachTel poll last week suggested was heading for victory in Mount Gambier – and he insists the moratorium is a key condition of his support for any future government.

The issue is one of 10 major platforms of an environmental policy platform sent to all major parties from interest groups late last year, and Wilderness Society SA director Peter Owen said fossil fuel drilling in the South-East and the Great Australian Bight “could lead to hundreds of times more pollution than current state emissions, which completely undermines the Government’s leadership on renewables”.

“This is one of our key concerns – the carbon footprint to release fossil fuels in the South-East is many times the state’s total emissions, so it’s very serious issue.”

Asked if he would prefer a Bell-backed Liberal Government banning South-East fracking or a Weatherill Labor Government’s renewables agenda, Owen said: “I don’t think it’s an either/or.”

“No doubt, we want to see leadership in renewables, but we can’t continue to support a massive expansion of fossil fuel activity, because it’s changing the climate, and it’s something that’s no longer viable.”

The Liberals have already committed to retain the moratorium, as has SA Best, while Labor has ruled out negotiating with Bell to form government. Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis has also maintained his strong advocacy for gas exploration.

On oil and gas drilling in the Bight, Marshall told today’s forum he stood by the current arrangements, which allowed the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority to independently evaluate any proposals.

Weatherill concurred, but insisted “we do have a role we can play in establishing the standards NOPSEMA will apply to the regulatory process”.

“Those strict environmental standards will make it very difficult for any application to be successful, and if that’s the result we’re content with that.

“We won’t support any exploration in the Bight that would risk our environment.”

Parnell said it was too early to evaluate the environmental credentials of either major party as there is “more water to go under the bridge” on outlining policy.

But, he said, it’s “not all roses on either side”.

“I think the Liberal promise in the south-east is overblown: it’s a geographically limited, time-limited moratorium with no legislative basis, and focuses on only one aspect of the fossil fuels industry – hydraulic fracturing for shale gas,” he said.

On Labor, he said: “I really do acknowledge the role Tom Koutsantonis played in defending our renewables sector, but just when the love is in the air, they’re giving tens of millions of dollars to fossil fuels companies to explore for more dollars.

“So it’s two steps forward, one step back… it’s problematic.”

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