Is coal-seam gas worth the risk?

The Australian - 24.9.2011

THE discovery of the Great Artesian Basin in 1848, paved the way for the opening up of the outback and the development of the nation’s sheep and cattle industries. Vast tracts of arid land in Queensland, and parts of northern NSW and South Australia, finally had access to a reliable water supply. That groundwater remains a cornerstone of modern agriculture.

But the explosion in coal-seam gas extraction activities has concerned farmers and green activist groups who are locked in fierce debate with cashed-up extraction companies and governments with dollar signs in their eyes.
In a vacuum created by a CSG industry that has tried to avoid the media spotlight and governments with apparently little else on their minds than rivers of royalties, the level of debate regarding CSG has been unsophisticated at best.

What the Queensland government failed to mention was that the industry generally agrees anywhere between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of all wells will be fracced, and that fraccing generally occurs in the later stages of production, after the most accessible gas had been extracted.
There are also concerns surrounding the uncomfortably close relationship that exists between the CSG industry and the Queensland government, exacerbated by the fact CSG regulation is perceived as lagging well behind the technology.
Rather than seeking to employ more of its own independent experts, the Queensland government is increasingly relying on industry for CSG education, raising the obvious conflicts and biases when it comes to regulation.

A senior executive of a large CSG operator, who declined to be named, says the group has been heavily involved in educating the state government.
“The experience across the government is probably not there,” the executive says.
That apparent lack of knowledge hasn’t stopped the government signing away huge tracts of land for CSG exploration and approving thousands of wells. There are 2000 wells producing CSG in the state and 5500 wells have been approved.
By June last year, 25 per cent of all CSG extracted in the state had been extracted in the previous 12 months. Queensland has 28,000 petajoules of proven CSG reserves – that’s 36 times more than what has already been extracted.
The interconnectivity of coal seams and aquifers remains the biggest concern to operations.

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