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Victoria Becomes First Australian State to Ban Fracking

Energy
Victoria Becomes First Australian State to Ban Fracking

The state of Victoria in Australia has voted to ban fracking on its territory, further cementing the moratorium first put in place in 2012. It is the first Australian state to impose such a ban.

Australia's indigenous flag is raised in protest to fracking on aboriginal land. Damian Kelly Photography

Premier Daniel Andrews announced Tuesday.

"It is clear that the Victorian community has spoken," the premier's office said in a statement. "They simply don't support fracking. The government's decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledges that the risks involved outweigh any potential benefits to Australia."

The Victoria government had conducted a parliamentary inquiry into fracking for onshore gas in the state and received more than 1,600 submissions. Most of these were opposed to fracking.

The newly imposed ban will help protect agricultural industries and workers, the government said.

"Our state is the nation's top food and fiber producer with exports worth $11.6 billion," the statement said. "The permanent ban protects our farmers and preserves Victoria's hard-won reputation for producing high quality food."

More than 190,000 people are employed in the agricultural sector in Victoria.

Existing exemptions to the moratorium will continue. Gas storage, carbon storage research and accessing offshore resources are still permissible in the state of Victoria, while exploration and development for offshore gas will also continue.

The government said it will extend the current moratorium on exploration and development of conventional onshore gas until June 30, 2020. Scientific and environmental studies will be conducted on the risks and benefits of drilling for onshore gas, the statement said.

The scientific panel will be headed by lead scientist Amanda Caples, and will include representatives from business, the agricultural sector and the community.

Farmers are relieved that the Victoria government has come down in favor of a ban.

"It has been so heart-wrenching at times, when we thought the drill rigs were coming and there was nothing we could do," dairy farmer Julie Boulton of Seaspray, Victoria, told The Guardian.

"But we pulled together as a community and decided to fight this threat to our farmland, water and health and today's decision is just fantastic—we are ecstatic."

A coalition of rural communities operating under the moniker of 'Lock the Gate' has been working for the past five years to protect their industries and the environment. If fracking hadn't been banned, an estimated 1.4 million hectares of land in the state would be under threat, Lock the Gate coordinator Chloe Aldenhoven said.

"For the farming communities that have been fighting to stop this industry for over five years now, this is a wonderful day," she said. "This decision gives them certainty to move forward, and this decision protects Victoria's vital clean and green image."

The Victoria government was aware of the misgivings of its population, Minister for Resources Wade Noonan said.

"There has been a great deal of community concern and anxiety about onshore unconventional gas—this decision gets the balance right," Noonan said.

Momentum towards a ban increased in April, when EcoWatch reported that a river in South Western Queensland exploded with fire. The Condamine River, the site of coal seam gas operations, had so much gas seeping into the river that it sustained a substantial fire.

Methane was first identified in the river near Chinchilla in 2012, where Origin Energy had been drilling for gas. Locals say that, although some gas does originate from the Surat Basin geological formations, there has never been as much methane in the river. Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham also raised concerns over the length of the gas leak.

The Greens are pleased with the ban, but are frustrated that all onshore gas exploration has not been halted in the state.

"It's disappointing the government is leaving the door open to conventional gas drilling after the next state election," Greens energy spokeswoman Ellen Sandell, who represents Melbourne, told The Guardian.

"We won't stop fighting until all gas drilling is banned."

Up in New South Wales, where the April gas leak was filmed, a Greens MP and energy spokesperson called on the state to follow Victoria's lead and ban fracking

"The Greens are calling on [New South Wales premier] Mike Baird to end the uncertainty for communities by following Victoria's lead and banning coal seam gas and fracking permanently and setting a course towards a renewable energy future," Greens NSW Resources and Energy Spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said.

A ban also makes economic sense, principal advisor at The Australia Institute Mark Ogge told The Guardian, arguing that the creation of gas-related jobs means even more agricultural jobs are lost.

Banning fracking "is sound economic and energy policy," he said.

"Whatever benefits there are [to Australia's energy industry], have gone almost entirely to the overseas owners of global oil and gas companies licensed to export Australian gas, largely at the expense of Australian businesses and jobs."

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

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