At Quit Coal we had been campaigning on the issues of coal and climate change in Victoria for a while. But this new campaign was different. It might not have been as visually grabbing or outrageous as some of our previous banner-drops, lock-ons or other cheeky endeavours. But it felt like it just might work.
A new fossil fuel industry was coming to town, and from the damage already done in Queensland, northern NSW and all over the US, we knew we certainly didn’t want it here.
Conservative ministers and energy magnates desperate to make just a little more money before the renewables revolution finally arrived, proclaimed they had found the answer to all our dirty little fossil fuel problems: unconventional gas.
Made up of the unholy trinity of Coal Seam Gas (CSG), tight gas and shale gas, unconventional gas is a fossil fuel that was previously thought impossible to use because it was too difficult to access. But by shooting a toxic cocktail of chemicals, sand and water kilometres into the ground and cracking up solid rock, suddenly this gas could rush out, filling the pockets of mining magnates worldwide. This process is called fracking, and among many other negatives (such as leaking toxic gas into the air, contaminating aquifers and causing serious health effects) it has been known to do some crazy and maybe not completely desirable things, such as causing water to become flammable.
And once this industry has a toehold it is incredibly hard to stop. If your neighbour has a leaky gas well spewing methane willy-nilly into the air, the only people who will still buy your property are the mining companies. Genius.
Based on some incredibly successful campaigning happening in NSW, the plan was to unite farmers with inner-city greenies to stop this industry before it started. We wanted to activate the numerous communities that were covered by exploration licenses, and empower them to demand a better solution for their towns.
Our campaign started with rallying 2000 individuals, 59 organisations and six local councils together to call for the state government to implement a moratorium (ban) on all new coal and unconventional gas explorations and developments until they could be scientifically proven to be safe. In August 2012 the State Government (a Liberal Government, at that) announced a temporary moratorium on fracking.
“We are so close to being a Gasfield Free State that we can taste it. And it tastes damn good. “
Not long after, people from the town of Poowong went door-to-door in their community, surveying every adult in the area about whether or not they wanted to declare their town completely free of unconventional gas. 95% of people said yes. And that was how Poowong became the first town in Victoria to be officially declared Gasfield Free. From there, this ball of momentum grew.
More and more communities across Gippsland got informed, angry and motivated enough to declare themselves Gasfield Free, too. And then communities in Western Victoria started to get on board. A mining company threatened to begin test drilling in the town of Seaspray, and residents set up a blockade camp. Residents of towns from all over the state came to help. Pig farmers practiced locking themselves to tractors and carried chains and provisions in the backs of their utes just in case. The government looked like it might lift the moratorium, and farmers stated that they would ride their horses down Bourke Street to Parliament House in protest, resulting in the extension of the moratorium to include all drilling and exploration, and to last until 2015. The Labor Party launched a year-long Parliamentary Inquiry into the unconventional gas industry once they took power. Meanwhile regional communities are investigating safe forms of energy production, like community owned windfarms.
There are now 67 communities across the state that have declared themselves Gasfield Free, from towns right on the Adelaide border to towns in the furthermost tip of East Gippsland. The small, grassroots campaign that started in 2012 in a scrappy little meeting room on Smith St is working.
But the verdict of the inquiry is still out. Danny Andrews and the merry band that call themselves the Victorian government are still straddling the fracking fence.
With one swipe of a pen, the protections we currently have could disappear. That’s why, this Sunday, people from across Victoria are coming together to declare the whole state Gasfield Free. We are not gathering to beg the Premier to consider our point of view. We are gathering to say that the Victorian community has already made a decision about unconventional gas. And the decision is no fracking way.
This Sunday we will meet on that same upper level of Friends of the Earth, where we have been meeting continually for the last three years. We will gather up our banners, take a deep breath and head out to join people from all 67 of those communities (and their city-based allies) at the State Library.
We are so close to being a Gasfield Free State that we can taste it. And it tastes damn good. This is not only a push back against the rapacious destruction of the fossil fuel industry, but a push towards a safe, democratic, clean energy future.
This is a battle that matters. Will you join us? Click HERE