PDF printable version of National Farmers' Federation submission (PDF 235 KB)
16 December 2011
Department of Health and Ageing
GPO Box 9848
CANBERRA ACT 2609
RE: BETTER REGULATION OF INDUSTRIAL CHEMICALS
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is pleased to provide a submission (attached) to the above review. Ordinarily, the NFF would not be seeking to make comment on industrial chemicals. However, the significant community concern over the coal seam gas industry and in particular, angst over the use of chemicals in the drilling mud and fraccing processes makes it necessary that NFF ensures that the concerns of landholders are considered as part of this review.
NFF encourages this review to ensure the fast track of chemicals used to ensure that appropriate regulation is in place, or conversely, assure landholders and the broader community that there are little or no adverse consequences from the use of these industrial chemicals.
Should you wish further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact Deborah Kerr at the NFF Office on 02 62695666.
Chief Executive Officer
National Farmers’ FederationTop of Page
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Better Regulation of Industrial Chemicals
16 December 2011
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- The National Farmers’ Federation
- Assessment Of Industrial Chemicals Used In Drilling Muds And Fraccing Fluids
1. The National Farmers’ Federation
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) is the peak national body representing farmers and, more broadly, agriculture across Australia. It is one of Australia's foremost and respected lobbying and advocacy organisations.
Since its inception in 1979, the NFF has earned a formidable reputation as a leader in the identification, development and achievement of policy outcomes - championing issues affecting farmers and the advancement of agriculture.
The NFF is dedicated to proactively generating greater understanding and better-informed awareness of farming's modern role, contribution and value to the entire community.
One of the keys to the NFF's success has been its commitment to presenting innovative and forward-looking solutions to the issues affecting agriculture, striving to meet current and emerging challenges, and advancing Australia's vital agricultural production base.
The NFF's membership comprises of all Australia's major agricultural commodities. Operating under a federated structure, individual farmers join their respective state farm organisation and/or national commodity council. These organisations collectively form the NFF.
The 2009 re-structure of the NFF has enabled a broader cross section of the agricultural sector, including the breadth and the length of the supply chain, to become members through an associate member category.
Each of the state farm organisations and commodity council’s deal with state-based 'grass roots' issues or commodity specific issues, respectively, while the NFF represents the agreed imperatives of all at the national and international level.
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The NFF welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the Better Regulation of Industrial Chemicals Review (the Review). This NFF submission will focus on the current issues and concerns arising from the coal seam gas industry in particular1
and how this intersects with landholder concerns around their food production systems and the safety of both land and water resources.
The intersection of the use of chemicals on private land falls into two categories – drilling fluids or muds and chemicals used in the fraccing process. There are three major concerns – the implications for the use of chemicals on surface and groundwater, the contamination of land from the use of chemicals in exploration and production, and the risk of industrial chemicals used to contaminate the food and fibre supply chain (i.e. through livestock or plants consuming/absorbing the chemicals). The latter in particular, would have significant implications for food safety in Australia and overseas (through the export of agricultural commodities) and the damage this could do to Australia’s clean, safe and green agricultural industries.
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3. Assessment Of Industrial Chemicals Used In Drilling Muds And Fraccing Fluids
At present, it appears very difficult to ascertain the regulations governing the use of industrial chemicals in drilling muds and fraccing. Moreover, it is also difficult to ascertain what industrial chemicals are actually used in either process, let alone whether these chemicals are assessed for this use.
that National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) urgently collate a list of all chemicals used in drilling muds and fraccing fluids and that this is made publicly available. Moreover, the list should provide an overview of whether these chemicals have been assessed for the purpose of use in drilling mud and fraccing fluid.
In terms of assessment, NFF notes that NICNAS undertakes a health and safety assessment and the Department of Sustainability, Water, Environment, Population and Communities (SEWPC) undertakes an environmental assessment. It would appear that there is no assessment of the food safety aspects of using industrial chemicals on the land on which food and fibre is produced.
The issue of food safety is of particular concern. Farmers are required to comply with a range of voluntary and compulsory (e.g. Maximum Residue Limits or MRLs) food standards, including chemical residues in food and fibre. These apply to the domestic sale of food and fibre and to the international trade in food and fibre.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries has produced a factsheet on this issue2
noting that landholders are currently responsible for ensuring that any commodities they market do not contain unacceptable chemical residues and that there are significant penalties if thresholds are breached.
The negative consequences of non-compliance cannot be made clearer than the cotton saga of the late 1990s when spray drift from cotton crops and feeding of cotton trash to cattle has resulted in endosulphan contamination of beef herds3
. The outcome was disruption in some export markets and significant costs to both the beef and cotton industries.
Australia’s farmers will not tolerate a repeat of this issue with chemicals used in coal seam gas exploration and production due to the significant costs to individual farm businesses and industries as well as the domestic and export markets.
As an example, Ammonium, potassium and sodium persulfate (“persulfate”) was assessed as a priority existing chemical (PEC) in 2001. In Australia, persulfates are used as a bleach ingredient in the hairdressing industry. NICNAS assessed persulfates primarily because of the prevalence of skin disease and asthma in that industry (National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme, 2001).
It would appear that persulfates have not been assessed for use as a fraccing fluid component but is listed as a chemical used in fraccing that ought not to be considered harmful as it has a common or household use4
. Moreover, it has not been assessed for environmental harm or indeed harm to food safety.
NFF recommends that NICNAS urgently undertakes assessment of the all chemicals used in drilling muds and fraccing.
NFF recommends that NICNAS include an assessment of food and fibre safety when industrial chemicals are assessed for use in drilling fluids or fraccing on farming land.
NFF understands that an assessment of industrial chemicals might be undertaken in isolation rather than when the industrial chemical might be used as part of a mix of substances. As an example,
NICNAS assesses the individual chemical but not the mix of chemicals.
NFF recommends that NICNAS include an assessment of the combined effect of all chemicals used in drilling mud and fraccing to ensure the mix meets the human health, environmental and food safety standards required.
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NICNAS has a significant burden in assessing some 38000 chemicals grandfathered into its legislation, along with new chemicals and secondary assessments. NFF notes that NICNAS is implementing new processes, including the use of overseas data to support Australian assessments. NFF supports any endeavours that may assist NICNAS to undertake its functions.
NFF also notes that NICNAS is a cost recovery agency and this may have limitations on resolving the above burden.
Therefore, the NFF recommends
that the Australian Government seek to provide sufficient resources to NICNAS to facilitate expedition of these assessments.
Moreover, given the significant community concern around the coal seam gas industry’s use of chemicals, that the Australian Government prioritises resources to effectively assess these chemicals as a matter of urgency. NFF supports that Government seeks to recoup the costs of these assessment from the coal seam gas industry.
that NICNAS undertakes urgent assessment of the chemicals used in drilling mud and fraccing fluids.
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The coal seam gas industry is currently undergoing significant community backlash and loss of social licence to operate in Australia. While the concerns of farmers and the community are varied, of some concern is the chemicals used by companies in the drilling of wells and the fraccing of coal seams (and potentially shale in some parts of Australia) for the exploration and production of coal seam gas.
NICNAS oversees the regulation and use of industrial chemicals. However, the intersection of NICNAS and the use of chemicals by CSG companies require urgent attention. This includes secondary assessment of chemicals used in drilling and fraccing to ensure that there are no deleterious effects on the environment, human health and food safety.
To assist, NFF recommends that NICNAS is sufficiently resourced to undertake such assessments, including the appropriateness of the use of, what are currently implied as “harmless”, chemicals for drilling mud and fraccing. Such assessments must also include food safety due to the liability of farmers in the sale of livestock and other commodities.
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BHP Billiton Petroleum Pty Ltd. (2010). Speaking Oil and Gas
. Australia: APPEA.
National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. (2001). Ammonium, Potassium and Sodium Persulfate Priority Existing Chemical Report
No 18. Canberra: NICNAS.
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Manager – Natural Resource Management
Ph: 02 6269 5666