On Friday, Australian Member of Parliament Jeremy Buckingham set fire to a river.
"I was shocked by force of the explosion when I tested whether gas boiling through the Condamine River, [Queensland] was flammable," Buckingham wrote in a Facebook post. "So much gas is bubbling through the river that it held a huge flame."
Buckingham's video has been viewed more than 3.5 million times and shared more than 89,000 times so far.
The video shows Buckingham setting a lighter to the river and jumping back as it explodes in flames. He exclaims, "Holy [bleeped expletive]! A river on fire!" and later turns to the camera. "Sometimes a picture says a thousand words. Have a look at this… this is the future of Australia… this is utterly unacceptable."
Buckingham, a member of the pro-environment Greens party, was hoping that the stunt would draw attention to the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. He wrote that "gas first started bubbling though the river shortly after the coal seam gas industry took off in the Chinchilla area," adding, " since then the volume of gas bubbling through the river has massively increased and has spread along the river." In his estimation,the fracking activity is polluting the river and contributing to climate change. "Fugitive emissions from the unconventional gas industry could be a major contributor to climate change and make gas as dirty as burning coal."
Buckingham is not the only one using flashy means to protest fracking in Australia. In February, a group of Australian farmers used herds of sheep to spell out "ban gas," a giant anti-fracking message, in their fields.
Buckingham's video comes on the heels of a decision by the Queensland government to halt underground coal gasification, or UCG, a process that requires the same type of drilling used for fracking. The Australian Associated Press reported last week that "the ban came after UCG pilot company Linc Energy, which last week went into voluntary administration, was recently committed for trial in the district court on five counts of willfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm."
But not everyone is convinced that fracking is to blame for the Condamine River's flammability. The country's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, argues that the river is naturally likely to catch fire. Professor Damian Barrett of CSIRO told Guardian Australia that methane seeps out of cracks in the Condamine riverbed that far predates any fracking-related activity. "The gas has probably been coming to the surface there for as long as people have been there," Barrett explained, adding, "we don’t see a direct connection, a direct relationship, between what’s happening on the gas fields up to this point in time and what’s happening in the river."
Buckingham isn't buying it. "That particular arm of the CSIRO is funded by the industry and I believe that they are making excuses for the industry that they have let off the leash," he told Guardian Australia. Barrett, for his part, said that “we have mechanisms in the organisation to make sure that the research we do is independent and can be trusted."
In any case, Barrett said setting the river on fire is "“not necessarily an advisable thing to do." Noted.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.