Coal Seam Gas community conference in 2019

Australia has about 6000 coal seam gas wells in active production and thousands of decommissioned wells. Many more will potentially be drilled in the future. Queensland takes the lion share of the wells in active production. The industry should, therefore, consider what will be left behind after production.

Coal Seam Gas (SSG) is natural gas, primarily methane. It is not a new discovery in Australia. CSG was discovered in the 1990s. Thank technological advancement, it has developed to be an essential fuel. The gas is found in plenty in coastal eastern Australia. Currently, Surat and Bowen basins are the largest reserves.

The extraction process involves pumping water within the seams to the ground allowing the gas to flow to the surface. Hybrid drill rigs are safer and faster than the conventional one. They also have less impact on the environment. The gas is channeled to processing facilities for distribution while water is piped to water treatment facilities. CSG producers aim to satisfy and expand demand and equally important, to replace the diminishing supply of conventional gas.

Coal seam gas production involves drilling wells into the underground coal seams. This brings mineral and salts rich CSG water coming out of the seam to the surface. The local community is usually left in the dark on what eventually happens when CSG eventually starts operation in their area. Education institutions, government, and environmental institutions conduct conferences majorly to bring all stakeholders on board and chart the way forward together.

CSG controversy

CSG production has sparked heated debates in regards to agriculture, environment and community concerns. The community in the production area feels that the development of coal seam gas may affect their health. Other CSG risks are water resource competition, land use competition and environmental effects.

Several conferences are organized throughout the year to address the issue surrounding seam coal gas. While most are to address an issue such as health and environment concerns, others are purely business related. Below are some of the major conferences on SCG.

University of Queensland workshops in June 2019

In June 2019, the University of Queensland will hold a workshop in Miles, Chinchilla, Toowoomba, Dalby, and Roma to update the local communities on economic and social changes occurring in the community lately. The University’s Center for Coal Seam Gas conducted research on critical impacts on towns. The influences and changes include the development of coal and seam gas industry. This industry is a major player in the economy of Queensland.

The latest annual report on Gas field communities of Queensland will feature prominently. Insight in research and stakeholders trust in the CSG industry will also feature.   The workshop will culminate with research in natural gas and energy updates.

APPEA 2019

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration (APPEA) is a national body that represents Australia’s interest in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas. In May 2019,  APPEA held a conference with the theme “Navigating the Future”. The conference program highlight challenges in petroleum exploration and development.

Coal seam gas licences accounts for 12 % of the North West shelf land mass. Such a vast area could have a significant effect on public health. A Workshop held last year in New South Wales and Queensland brought together industry, local community and state agencies to address CSG issues. The participants agreed that the CSG wells should never leak or impinge on land use. The wells should also be barely noticeable.

 In August 2018, NWPA held a coal seam gas and public health conference. This conference brought together doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and community members.  The conference sought to address host communities issues and also inform professionals on CSG impacts in Queensland. The evening forum explored whether the precautionary principle was being applied to health impact assessment. The conference discussed the issue regarding CSG gas rush and host communities concerns. The conference also informed the professionals in this industry about coal seam gas concerns in the Queensland and Southwest Sidney.

 The afternoon sessions saw presentations from health professionals in matters gas. Dr Helen Redmond presentation addressed the health impacts of living in or need a gas field. Dr Geralyn followed with a wonderful presentation which sought to answer whether there is a connection between hospitalizations in Darling Downs Queensland and unconventional gas industry.

The Risks Associated With Coal Seam Gas

Exploration and production of coal seam gas has sparked growing concerns about water security, health, food security, and environmental risks. CSG industry has grown exponentially over the past decade in Australia. This growth is attributed to the growing demand for gas fuel as a transition from using fossil fuels. At the moment over 80 percent of Australia reserves are coal seam gas and a third of natural gas comes from coal seams.

Coal seam gas is a natural gas that is exported as liquefied natural gas. But there is controversy surrounding gases emission. The concerns arise from the potential adverse environmental effects of CSG gas industry. Consequently, governments have established laws and regulations to regulate exploration and production.

Compared to Coal, SCG gas is a solution to refrain from using fossil fuel and embrace renewable energy. Using CSG in electricity generation slashes C02 emission up to 70 percent in comparison to coal. There are numerous pros and cons of Coal seam gas. In this article we’ll explore the CSG risks.

Water Risk

Coal seam gas production requires extraction of a large amount of water to allow the gas to flow to the surface. Additionally, the water is too salty for agricultural use. Therefore, CSG is a threat to water catchments. This problem is much bigger in the developed world where the production of coal seam water is much advanced.

Another problem is aquifer contamination from CSG water. This can lead to CSG erupting from farming bores used for domestic use and irrigation. Worse still, air and CSG gas mixture can be explosive.

The process of CSG production involves pumping a mixture of sand chemicals and water under high pressure. This forms cracks through which the gas comes to the surface. The water contains huge amounts of chemicals, salts, and methane gas. These substances could have adversely effects on the environment.

Exploration and production of coal seam gas have resulted in two competing priority. While there is a need to increase the natural resource base, it is equally important to have a sustainable supply of underground water for irrigation and household use. The bottom line is that production of CSG may cause negative impact on the groundwater supply.

Health

Workers in coal seam gas production handle chemicals, sometimes in a concentrated amount, during water coal seam production process. Consequently, they risk skin contact and breathing chemical vapor or dust when transporting, handling, or storing the chemicals. Industrial accidents could even be worse.

It is the government responsibility to prevent air, water and food contamination. In some countries like France and South Africa, the government has banned mining of shale gas. This is because the chemical used during the drilling fracturing process and natural contaminants from the seams pose a risk to CSG workers health. With sufficient exposure and pose, the chemical could cause grave effects such as cancer.

Food security

Drilling process for coal seam gas is a potential threat to food security. The production of this carbon-intensive gas puts arable land into the risk of degradation.  Most of the CSG product occurs on land suitable for agriculture. As a result, community members have raised concern over the loss of agricultural land to CSG production while the industry wants the restriction on access to these lands minimized. CSG mining takes a massive size of land for access roads, underground pipes and gas wells.

CSG wells in the farming field disrupt water flow causing farmers great problem. The roads are also a great cause of soil erosion. While a single incident wipes top fertile soil, it may take eons to restore fertility for agricultural production. Some of the best agricultural land in Australia is on the verge of destruction. This puts food production at stake.

Environment

CSG gas primarily consists of methane. Emission of methane to the environment can potentially cause climate change.

Conclusion

Food quality and security is the backbone of good health. Using arable land and diverting water from agricultural use could cause adverse effects, including health issues. CSG mining can also divide communities that have enjoyed a warm bond for years and hence bring tension and disharmony. Consequently worse it would disrupt the local economy such as tourism.  However, we can’t disregard the benefits of coal seam gas, especially on the economy. We should, therefore, find a compromise so that we can benefit from CSG mining without putting our lives at stake.