Over the hump: Camels, four-wheel-drives and tourists leave Broome's Cable Beach after watching the famous sunset. Photo: Angela Wylie
Fresh from fighting off Australia's biggest gas hub, the people of national tourism hotspot Broome now face another challenge: fracking in their water supply.
Fairfax Media can reveal an oil and gas company is negotiating with native title groups after the West Australian government gave it exploration rights over 3750 square kilometres of the Kimberley, including most of Broome's groundwater reserves.
The company, Goshawk Energy, has compared the area's geology to the Bakken Formation in the US, that country's largest oilfield and centre of its controversial fracking boom.
The new petroleum title is believed to contain conventional reservoirs where oil and gas can be pumped easily from the ground, and other reservoirs where the resources are trapped in rock seams. It is the trapped oil and gas that requires fracking - the high-pressure injection of water and chemicals underground.
Environmentalists are concerned about the risk of fracking to Broome's water supply. ''We see problems all over the world with fracking for shale gas - there is so much concern that some countries like France have banned it because of the risks of contamination to water supplies,'' said Environs Kimberley executive director Martin Pritchard, who is calling for a moratorium on fracking in the environmentally sensitive area.
But Goshawk Energy, which is owned by geologist Will Barker and former Woodside manager Andrew Leibovitch, says the operation is in the ''very early stages'' and the company needs to better understand the area's geology - possibly by seismic testing.
''We wouldn't do anything until we did a full environmental review and got full regulatory and government approvals,'' Mr Leibovitch said.
Goshawk Energy has exclusive rights to apply for exploration activity in the Canning Basin title, but must now gain approvals under the Native Title Act, including for land access and heritage agreements, said Jeff Haworth, executive director of the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum.
Mr Haworth said protecting the state's water resources was a priority for the government.
The title area begins just north of Broome and runs parallel to James Price Point, where resources giant Woodside wanted to locate its processing hub for the enormous LNG reserves that are offshore in the Browse Basin.
After a campaign by indigenous people, environmentalists and the Broome community, Woodside announced it would explore a floating gas processing plant instead.
The Dampier Peninsula is not new to fracking. The Australian-listed company Buru Energy used hydraulic fracturing in 2010 on its Yulleroo-2 well near the Great Northern Highway between Broome and Derby. This year, the company announced it wanted to frack five more wells.
Mr Barker and Mr Leibovitch have 50 years of experience between them, and recently raised $9 million for their projects in South Africa and Botswana. Their company, Sunbird Energy, received South African government clearance this month for the acquisition of part of the country's largest undeveloped gas field, the Ibhubesi project.
Broome shire president Graeme Campbell said he was not aware of the Goshawk Energy title, but oil and gas exploration permits were not unusual in the area. ''They can be issued over wide distances. Obviously if it's in a primary water supply area, they're not going to be drilling. The EPA and other regulators are going to prohibit that.''