Gasfields are springing up across NSW as energy companies deploy a poorly understood and regulated drilling technique - coal seam gas mining - to release methane trapped in coal seams. Despite a growing body of evidence linking CSG mining to drinking water contamination and reports of ill health from residents living near the gasfileds, energy companies like AGL and Origin are rushing to get the gas without waiting for all of the research to come in or for proper safeguards for important areas or communities in place.
CSG is extracted via wells that are drilled into the coal seams to release the trapped gas. The water in the coal seam is pumped out (known as de-watering) which reduces the pressure and allows the gas to be released.

When there is not enough pressure or the flow of water/gas is too slow, hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' is used.

Fracking is a technique used to create fractures that extend from the well bore into rock or coal formations. These fractures allow the oil or gas to travel more easily from the rock pores, where the oil or gas is trapped, to the production well. In order to create fractures, a mixture of water, proppants (consisting of alumino-silicates polymer spheres and / or sand), and chemicals (known as fracking fluid) are pumped into the rock or coal formation at high pressure. A well can be 'fracked' a number of times. Approximately, 40-50,000 kg of proppants are injected as part of the fracturing fluid mixture. These remain in the formation to hold open the fractures[1].

[1] US EPA 816-R-04-003, Chapter 3 Characteristics of CBM Production and Associated HF Practices.
CSG is a new technology which has many questions remaining about the impact it is having and will have on our environment, public health, drinking water and communties. Here are some things we do know:
  • There are already 259 CSG wells in NSW with thousands more planned. Queensland, where the industry has been operating for longer, currently has 3524 wells[1].
  • Once an aquifer is contaminated there is no known way to fix it. [2]
  • The National Water Commission, in their report on coal seam gas say that the "potential impacts of CSG developments, particularly the cumulative effects of multiple projects, are not well understood... The Commission is concerned that CSG development represents a substantial risk to sustainable water management given the combination of material uncertainty about water impacts, the significance of potential impacts, and the long time period over which they may emerge and continue to have effect."[3]
  • These concerns were echoed by one of the energy industry's top analyst and hydrogeologist, Gundi Royle. Water modelling needs to be done on a regional, not project scale, in order to examine the cumulative impacts. "Groundwater issues will take years to emerge, by which time the industry has taken out the profits, leaving the Australian taxpayer to deal with the liabilities"[4].
  • A draft United States EPA (Environment Protection Agency) report has found synthetic chemicals in 23 drinking water wells near natural gas extraction in Wyoming and has concluded that fracking can contaminate groundwater.[5]
  • Contamination of water is not the only risk. CSG mining uses an enormous amount of water, the National Water Commission says the CSG industry as a whole will extract more than 300 gigalitres of water each year; that's 300,000,000,000 litres of water!
  • Researchers at Southern Cross University have used a specialised measuring device and recorded highly elevated levels of methane in the air above the Tara coal seam gasfield in Queensland. The research suggests that the gas is probably migrating up from the coal seam via cracks and fissures in the ground. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (at least 21 times more powerful then carbon dioxide) but current accounting of emissions under the carbon price ignores these types of uncontrolled emissions from the ground.
  • Residents in Tara have reported adverse health impacts following CSG activities near their homes.
  • There are many harmful chemicals involved that individually have been linked to cancers and other diseases, such as methanol and isopropyl alcohol. Due to proprietary information owned by the producers of these fracking chemicals and the mining companies we do not know the exact identity or volume of the chemical mixtures used, however many tonnes of chemical additive can be used in each fracking. The rest of the chemical mixture returns to the surface as 'flowback' and may contain other natural contaminants like the carcinogenic benzene, PAHs, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs), heavy metals and other volatile organic compounds. Fracking releases these natural compounds from the coal seam.
  • Between 20 and 40% of the fracturing fluid may remain in the coal seam, which means the fluids could continue to be a source of groundwater contamination for years to come.
  • The National Industrial Chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme - Australia's industrial chemical regulator - has only assessed two out of the 23 known compounds used in fracking fluids but neither were assessed for use in CSG extraction.[6]
  • An estimated 31 million tonnes of waste salt will be produced by the coal seam gas industry, with no coordinated plan to dispose of it.[7]
  • The NSW government has replaced the entire board of the Sydney Catchment Authority. Who chairs the new board? Only the former director of two of Australia's largest mining companies. Click here to read the "Stop CSG Illawarra" post on this abuse of power:

  • A special thanks to Lock the Gate, National Toxics Network and all the community groups and individuals working to expose the threats to our community from CSG.

    [1] Latest industry data, third quater 2012. Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association Ltd (APPEA).
    [2] Senator Heffernen questioning Mark McFarlane of Santos in Federal Senate Inquiry. ABC radio, August 9, 2011.
    [3] National Water Commission Position Paper, December, 2010.
    [4] Energy analyst turns up heat on new gas projects. Parkes Champion-Post, October 27, 2011.
    [5] Draft Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming, EPA 600/R-00/000, December 201.
    [6] Hydraulic Fracturing in Coal Seam Gas Mining: The Risks to Our Health, Communities, Environment and Climate. National Toxics Network, June 2010.
    [7] Salt and other contaminants. ABC fact sheets and resources on this waste salt, and on toxic chemicals being released, April 3, 2012.
Promise: "A key part of the strategic land use planning process will be to identify strategic agricultural land and associated water and ensure that it is protected from the impacts of development." [1]
Fact: Strategic Agricultural Land can be approved for mining via a 'gateway' process resulting in either a gateway certificate to proceed or a conditional certificate to proceed. There is no option for nonapproval and the gateway can never close.

Promise: "It will provide certainty to local communities that cumulative impacts are being taken into account," [1]
Fact: The Plan only requires the development of a methodology on 'managing' cumulative impacts in 2013. The Plan does not require consideration of cumulative impacts before new mines are approved.

Promise: "Strategic agricultural land is a finite resource that must be conserved into the future to ensure future food security. It will be identified using a triple bottom line assessment of the environmental, social and economic characteristics of the area." [1]
Fact: Commitments in the draft Land Use Plan for a public interest test and cost-benefit analyses have been dropped and are now only voluntary for coal and gas companies. There have been no triple bottom line or agricultural economic impact assessments.

Promise: "I can assure the member that we intend to protect all areas of high conservation value through the process that we are developing." [2]
Fact: The maps of Tier 1 Biodiversity Areas that were included in the draft Land Use Plans were removed after complaints from the gas lobby. The final Plans provide no protection for high conservation value areas.

Promise: "The next Liberal/National government will ensure mining cannot occur in any water catchment area and that any mining leases and exploration permits will reflect that common sense. No ifs, no buts, a guarantee." [3]
Fact: There is no protection whatsoever for water catchments in the Strategic Regional Land Use Plans or associated policies.

Promise: "Where CSG activities involve interference with groundwater systems, we will require that proponents must obtain an Aquifer Interference Approval under S91 of the Water Management Act 2000". [1]
Fact: The regulation has been downgraded to a policy that has no legal standing. No approval is required. The Minister for Primary Industries and the NSW Office of Water have been relegated to a purely advisory role.

Promise: "Review the Water Management Act 2000, the Water Act 1912, the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 and related legislation to ensure aquifers are protected." [1]
Fact: There has been no such review and there is no protection for aquifers threatened by mining in NSW.

Special thanks to the North west alliance of farming, conservation and town residents groups fighting coal and gas mining in north-west NSW for this list.

[1] NSW Liberals and Nationals Strategic Regional Land Use (SRLU) Policy 2011.
[2] Minister Hazzard in Parliament, speaking on the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, 25th November 2011.
[3] Barry O'Farrell, Rally at Woodbury Park March 2011.


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