Can fracking industry cheerleaders be effective regulators?

Western Australians in some rural communities are starting to wonder if they can trust the Department of Mines and Petroleum as a health, safety and environment regulator, given it works on PR campaigns with companies pushing the benefits of shale gas fracking.

The role of Western Australia’s Department of Mines and Petroleum as an environment, health and safety regulator is compromised by its promotion of industry expansion and close working relationships with the companies it oversees, according to critics.

Over the weekend, ABC News reported on emails obtained under freedom of information that revealed the department’s close working relationship with shale gas miners on co-ordinated public relations strategies. This included plans to counter potential community concerns over proposed fracking projects before they were approved, on one political analyst’s reading of the emails.

The balancing act of government means individual functions of the public service regularly come into something resembling conflict with one another. Western Australians are far from alone in wanting some public servants to promote economic development, and others to make sure it doesn’t come at the expense of their health or the environment. The question is, should they all work under the same pro-mining roof to streamline processes, or should they be kept apart to maximise independence?

One of the DMP’s main roles is to attract investment in the resources sector, which it does by providing data about where mineral and energy resources are located and managing the title system, according to its website. A separate function, described as “educating the community”, involves selling the benefits of the industry across the state and is the cause of the concerns. The phrase links to a passage bursting with positivity about resources:

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