Thursday 26 July 2012

Why you won't find CSG here now

As you might have noticed there has been an occasional blog post that I’ve done dealing with coal seam gas matters in a cursory manner. I’ve been asked again and again by many people to explain aspects of the industry and the environmental issues associated with it. I’ve worked in coal exploration and in an environmental capacity before and I know a moderate amount about gas extraction too but I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers. Caution is needed especially given the highly political nature of the subject now. Therefore, I don’t really want to weigh into the subject, but I’ll have a very quick comment or two just to really outline the big picture. In the last week I cautiously commented in the Northern Star online twice as the avatar ‘GeologyRod’ just to correct a couple of mistakes people have made. I’ve also written one letter to the editor cautioning about how to interpret water chemistry. Given the heated debate, I’m not sure I will do so again!

From what I understand of the coal seam gas industry and the geology directly applicable to the area I am not as concerned about the industry doing damage to groundwater sources or surface water as some. From my contaminated land experience, I do however; see two potentially serious environmental problems. These are failure of well casings causing local cross-connection of poor and good quality water (and gas) and the disposal of poor quality production water (salinity is the biggest problem, as the chemicals potentially used can easily be treated but salt is hard to get rid of).

Considering a risk assessment approach (using the possible outcome and likelihood of that outcome) provides many scenarios with only the two mentioned above displaying an elevated level of risk (in my very hastily developed opinion). The nature of the geology of the southern Clarence-Moreton Basin is such that regional scale ground water contamination touted as a problem by many is probably of negligible risk, though this may occur elsewhere in eastern Australia in places like the Surat and Gunnedah Basins. However, local groundwater contamination (with a chance of affecting someone’s water supply bore) is probably on the moderate to high side. The disposal of salty water poses a moderate risk to the environment through adversely affecting large areas of pasture which might be irrigated or a moderate to high level if discharged untreated directly to fresh water streams.

Both of the matters outlined above are difficult to deal with and not knowing about the ins and outs of operators in the region I don’t know how the companies are going to mange these problems. This is ignorance on my part. I can only assume that this has been considered in detail (a legal requirement) so that the management of these problems is adequate.

This is my opinion only and given that opinions can get one in trouble I won’t be commenting on any other matters CSG related for quite some time. I really don’t like getting involved in political matters and it is easy to be carried into them. I hope I haven't been carried into them too far already. If you want to know a bit more about the technical side of coal seam gas extraction and the pollution risks there are some good fact sheets put out by the CSIRO linked to here. Maybe that is why I like rocks so much, they don’t argue with you (too much).

But back onto happier topics. I’ve been most excited by some new information that has come my way, one a University of New South Wales thesis by Leonary Drury on the Richmond Valley stratigraphy, groundwater, dating and much more, and the other is the preliminary geophysical data package released by the NSW geological survey. I’ll be blogging on these topics (plus others) in the coming months.


  1. It is a very emotive industry, yes I also want to keep out of that argument.

    1. Thanks for continuing to visit my blog Mark. I'm enjoying your blog series on the Armidale area at the moment. Stunning photos. I'll have to do another post about the Highlands again soon.

    2. I'm actually a little sad. This poorly written post has almost become the most popular post I've ever done, and this is in two days!

  2. Hi Rod,

    I think you're being hard on yourself! Your writing is clear, concise and most importantly very balanced.You also seem to ask more questions rather than making statements and this is what makes your blog a little gem. However, I think you are very brave getting involved in the opinion pages of north coast newspapers :-)

    1. Cheers Dylan,

      I appreciate your feedback. Funny thing is about my letter to the Northern Star (that was published, I found out) was that since it went in there has been several independent experts interviewed saying exactly what I thought. That makes me feel like I might have made a difference, I hope - it was all about metal solubility.

  3. Hi Rod,

    what do you make of Dr Gavin Mudd's (Monash Uni) views about the problems associated with coal seam gas mining? there are several clips available on youtube. i am very worried about any avoidable air pollution in the northern rivers as my partner has advanced bullous emphysema and my son has high allergies to environmental pollutants.

    kind regards,


    1. Thank you for commenting on my post and asking my opinion. I've only seen a small amount of Dr. Mudds comments but what I have seen, in general I think he is right about many areas of the coal seam gas extraction processes generally. As far as tying this in with the Northern Rivers many of his concerns are not relevant, however some are. Fugitive emissions, disposal of waste water (salinity is the only problem here though) and difficulties specifically around well casings during hydraulic fracturing 'Fraccing'.

      I don't know a great deal about respiratory matters, and I'm sorry to hear that your family has such medical conditions... horrible ones too. As far as air pollution goes I'd not be too concerned about. Indeed, I don't think the'd be any measurable increase in airborne contaminants, I'm more concerned about the existing air impacts such a cane burning or dust during dry weather, car pollution and certainly the application of biocides for macadamia plantations and other intensive horticulture.

      Having said all that, added industry that would be associated with the establishment of a gas 'industry' in the region would affect things such as dust during construction projects etc. Additionally, some fraccing fluids can have volatile organics (VOCs) and the coal seams themselves have VOCs. These can be problematic over for long term exposure and increasing the risk a tumors depending on the concentration (if you were to live next to a coal mine over a period of many years you'd have a slightly higher chance of acute respiratory illness probably due to the VOCs and dust). However, coal mines just release gasses into the air and open cut mines often have big dust issues.

      I guess, what I am saying is that the biggest risk is associated with airborne particles, dust. The nature of extracting gas from the ground is such that air borne particles are not a concern other than during the construction phases.

      I hope this all makes sense. Good luck with your family health.