A survey to assess community views and understanding about the emerging shale and tight gas industry in Western Australia (WA) was commissioned by the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) in June 2013.
Based on a State-wide sample of 402 respondents, the survey also included samples of approximately 200 respondents from each of the areas where the shale and tight gas industry could potentially be developed, referred to as North Perth, Southern Carnarvon and Canning basins.
The study identified that location has an identifiable impact on attitudes and opinions in relation to the shale gas industry and the extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing (fraccing).
North Perth Basin
A total of 201 respondents were surveyed from:
- The City of Geraldton and surrounds
- Shire of Irwin
- Shire of Mingenew
- Shire of Dandaragan
- Shire of Gingin
- Shire of Carnamah
The shale gas industry appears to be ‘top of mind’ compared to the respondents from WA overall and the other two regions, Southern Carnarvon and Canning Basins, included in the survey.
Feelings of knowledge levels regarding the industry and the hydraulic fracturing process were stronger. This group expressed concerns related to potential risk to water and environment.
In regards to the emerging shale gas industry, 35 per cent supported it (the same result – 35 per cent – as the State wide sample), while 30 per cent objected (compared to 20 per cent of the State wide sample). A further 35 per cent were either undecided or didn’t know enough to give an opinion.
More of the North Perth Basin group, 47 per cent, objected to hydraulic fracturing process compared to 36 per cent for WA overall. However, 23 per cent were in support and a further 30 per cent were undecided. Added to that, 14 per cent of this sample group were excluded from the survey because they had not heard of the hydraulic fracturing extraction process.
Of this group, 18 per cent felt they were confident they understood the hydraulic fracturing process, compared to 7 per cent of the State wide sample.
About two in three respondents felt they required further information regarding the shale gas industry.
Key Findings – The Perth North Basin community spectrum feelings regarding the emerging shale gas
Southern Carnarvon Basin
For this group a total of 196 respondents were surveyed from:
- The Carnarvon urban area and a number of surrounding suburbs (excluding Coral Bay)
- The Shire of Exmouth
- The Shire of Upper Gascoyne
- The suburb of Onslow
- Shire of Roeburne
Respondents shared some opinions similar to those in the North Perth Basin, particularly in regard to potential risks to water and the environment.
Of this group, 39 per cent supported the emerging industry, while 29 per cent objected and 32 per cent were undecided or didn’t know enough to give an opinion.
This group was significantly more likely to object to the hydraulic fracturing process, 45 per cent compared to 36 per cent for WA overall, while 15 per cent supported it and a further 40 per cent were undecided or didn’t know enough to give an opinion.
A further 29 per cent of this group were excluded from the survey as they had never heard of the hydraulic fracturing process.
Respondents from the Southern Carnarvon Basin followed the WA population overall in terms of their need for information with 74 per cent feeling that they did not have enough information regarding the industry and favouring mass media as a communication tool (62.5 per cent).
33 per cent felt they "somewhat understand" the process compared to 25 per cent for the WA population overall.
While this group was more likely to understand that shale gas deposits are located around Carnarvon and in the Gascoyne Region, significantly more respondents from the Southern Carnarvon Basin were also more likely than the WA population and other Basins to believe that WA’s oil and gas is only extracted offshore, 79 per cent compared to 64 per cent overall.
More of this group were likely to nominate Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a future type of gas for WA, while only 6.6 per cent had knowledge of shale gas.
Key Findings – The Southern Carnarvon Basin community spectrum feelings regarding the emerging shale
This survey included a total of 202 respondents from:
- Shire of Broome (excluding Beagle Bay and La Grange Aboriginal community)
- Shire of Derby-West Kimberley
- Town of Port Hedland
Responses were similar to the WA population overall, in terms of their knowledge, attitudes and opinions towards the shale gas industry and the hydraulic fracturing process. This group was more likely than the WA population overall to feel that they "somewhat understand" the hydraulic fracturing process, with 33 per cent feeling they somewhat understand the process compared to 25 per cent for the WA population overall.
The respondents in this group were more likely than the population overall to object to the shale gas industry and they were the most likely group to be aware that there were shale gas deposits located in their region.
Of this group, 34 per cent were in support of the emerging shale gas industry, while 28 per cent objected (compared to 20 per cent of the population overall ), while 38 per cent were undecided or didn’t know enough to form an opinion.
Residents in the Canning Basin displayed the strongest level of awareness of shale gas deposits within their region (48 per cent), followed by residents from the Perth North Basin (43 per cent) and the Southern Carnarvon Basin (23 per cent).
Respondents from the Canning Basin did differ from the WA population overall in being more likely to nominate LNG and Liquid Petroleum Gases (LPG) gases as types that could be extracted from WA in the future, while only 10.8 per cent nominated shale gas.
Respondents from rural and regional areas were more likely than those in metropolitan areas to be more evenly divided between supporting, objecting or undecided/unable to give an opinion about the emerging shale gas industry.
Key Findings – The Canning Basin community spectrum feelings regarding the emerging shale gas
Confidence levels in Government regulation
Almost 1 in two respondents felt the Department of Mines and Petroleum was performing at either a fairly good or very good level in regard to oil and gas (44.8 per cent).
Residents in the three basin areas had similar views of the overall State respondents in that more than 2 in 3 people (65.6 per cent) felt that the State Government has the ‘power’ to regulate the emerging shale gas industry.
Of the overall group surveyed, most West Australians have either never heard of the hydraulic fracturing process (41 per cent) or have heard of it but do not know what is involved (27 per cent). Less than 1 in 10 (7 per cent) stated they were confident that they understand the process.
Key Findings – Perceptions of the State Government’s ability to regulate the shale gas industry
The Community Attitudes Towards Shale Gas survey identified that communities in the most likely affected areas wanted more information and understanding of the industry.
Through the survey, West Australians expressed a strong desire for the distribution of further information regarding the shale gas industry, mainly through the media, with a focus on television and local newspapers.
More than 3 in 4 respondents felt that they did not currently have enough information regarding the emerging shale gas industry and what is currently happening in Western Australia. The desire for more information was stronger among females than males.
The information gained from the survey formed the basis for the DMP’s community engagement program and the development of information sheets and educational material, including the release of the Natural Gas from Shale and Tight rocks – an overview of Western Australia’s Regulatory Framework in January this year. All of this information is available at the DMP website.
DMP has also conducted community information sessions in the areas most likely to be affected by this emerging industry (North Perth, Southern Carnarvon and Canning) to provide information and gather feedback on community concerns and expectations.
This survey information will provide baseline data that will support future studies to help DMP provide the information and ongoing engagement community requires.