Coal Seam Gas (CSG)
Exploration rights for coal seam gas have been granted over the irreplaceable Liverpool Plains. Santos is currently drilling for CSG, exploring the industry’s viability in this area.[divider top=”0″] [tabs style=”2″] [tab title=”About CSG”] [spoiler title=”What is CSG?”]
Coal seam gas (CSG) is a type of unconventional natural gas. It is found underground in coal deposit seams.
Coal and CSG were formed from vegetative matter held under intense pressure for millions of years. Coal seams can be found at depths of 300metres-1000metres. These seams are often filled with salty water that can also contain toxic and radioactive compounds and heavy metals. The water pressure in the seam holds the CSG as a thin layer on the surface of the coal. This suspension of the coal seam gas is also known as “adsorption”.
Coal seam gas primarily consists of methane gas, and small percentages of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Methane gas makes up to 95-97% of CSG. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and poses a serious threat to the Earth’s climate. Methane’s global-warming footprint is 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.
CSG is also referred to as Coal Bed Methane (CBM) or Coal Seam Methane (CSM).
Just like other forms of natural gas, CSG is used for cooking and heating, industrial processes, and electricity generation.
As at January 2012, the Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of CSG in New South Wales is 8% of the current Australian CSG reserves. The Gunnedah Basin makes up 4% of this.[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [spoiler title=”CSG Exploration”]
Exploration is carried out by coal seam gas companies to ascertain where CSG reserves exist and to evaluate their commercial viability. CSG companies gather information during exploration such as the permeability of the coal, reservoir pressures, gas composition and rates of both gas and water production.
The exploration process consists of four main stages:
Stage 1 – Geological and geophysical desktop studies are performed to isolate CSG prospects and leads.
Stage 2 – A core hole and stratigraphic holes are drilled to identify hydrocarbon resources.
Stage 3 – Geophysical surveys such as seismic, magnetic and gravity surveys are used to evaluate the potential size of the discovered CSG reserve. This stage may also require further core and stratigraphic hole drilling.
Stage 4 – The exploration wells are tested to determine if the gas will flow in economically viable volumes.[divider top=”1″]
The activities carried out during CSG exploration include:
A seismic survey is like an ultrasound which is used to map the sub-surface structure of the earth. Artificially generated sound waves are created from a vibrating plate which is lowered to the ground from trucks called vibroseis trucks. The sound waves travel down into the ground. When the waves hit a geological boundary they are reflected back to the Earth’s surface. The reflected soundwaves are detected by small surface microphones, or geophones, which are placed in a grid pattern on the ground. Geophones carry the signals to a recording truck.[frame align=”center”][/frame]
Results from seismic surveys allow geologists to make an accurate 3D structural model of the sub-surface. The data gathered will also assist in further understanding the hydrological conditions present in the basin.[divider top=”1″]
A Core Hole
A core hole is a hole drilled to take a sample of coal, from a coal seam. A core hole is typically 10 cm in diameter and can vary in depth from 300 metres to 1,500 metres, depending on the depth of the coal seams.
A core sample is typically 5 or 6 cm in diameter and sectioned into 1 metre lengths. The core samples then undergo a variety of tests to better understand the coal and gas properties including the amount and type of gas contained within the coal.[frame align=”center”][/frame] [divider top=”1″]
This involves drilling exploration holes to retrieve and test drill cuttings and complete subsequent down hole logging and analysis. The holes are typically designed to provide geological, permeability and gas composition data.
Stratigraphic holes are generally cemented, plugged and abandoned in accordance with requirements and rehabilitated, unless the holes are needed for further exploration testing. An instrument may be installed into the hole for ongoing data collection and the hole may be capped and suspended for future testing work.[divider top=”1″]
Exploration Test Wells
A test well is a CSG well used to investigate the potential gas reserves in an area. A testing program involves the drilling of a group of test wells (up to 5) to just below the coal seam.These wells are used to measure the flow of gas and the volume of brine waste water released from the targeted coal seam.
Once drilled a submersible pump is installed to remove brine water from the coal seam. The reduction of water pressure in the coal seam allows gas to release from the coal and flow to the surface. Once a CSG company has perforated a coal seam, this depressurisation is permanent and the gas is able to migrate continually from this point on.
On the surface, the well head is contained within a fenced area and is a height of 2 metres. Small pipes flow from the well, one containing gas and the other containing waste water.
The wells are fully cased with steel and concrete. The casing is perforated at the coal seam to allow the flow of brine water and gas from the coal seam. These casings are known to fail and leak environmentally toxic products into air, water, soil and environment.
A test well generally operates for several months. Once sufficient data on both gas and water production has been collected the testing is complete. The site may remain in place to allow for testing of other coal seams or the well may be removed. If the well is removed all coreholes are ‘supposedly’ sealed completely from bottom to surface using a series of cement plugs. The site is then ‘supposedly’ rehabilitated. However, rehabilitation does not return the site to its original condition. Rehabilitated sites also receive no further maintenance from CSG companies so if an abandoned test well is leaking gas then it is left to do so.[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [spoiler title=”CSG Production”]
How is CSG mined commercially?
CSG is extracted via thousands of wells that are drilled into the coal seams to release the trapped gas. When there isn’t enough pressure or the flow of water/gas is too slow, hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ is used.
What is Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘Fracking’?
Fracking is a technique used to create fractures that extend from the well bore into rock or coal formations. These fractures allow the coal seam gas to travel more easily from the rock pores, where the gas is trapped, to the production well. In order to create fractures a mixture of water, sand and chemicals (known as fracking fluid) is injected at intense pressure into the rock or coal formation.
CSG ‘Produced Water’
Wastewater or ‘Produced Water’ as the CSG industry calls it, is water pumped from a coal seam to release the pressure and allow gas to flow to the surface. It is extracted from a minimum of 200metres to over a 1kilometre underground.
Water extracted from coal seams is unfit for human, animal or plant consumption. It is briny, and may contain toxic and radioactive compounds and heavy metals, as well as contaminates from fracking fluids. It is harmful water that does not have a place outside of coal seams.
The industry’s wastewater treatment and disposal leave much to be desired.
Evaporation ponds are illegal. Despite this, the NSW O’Farrell Government recently permitted Santos to construct plastic-lined ponds, or lakes as they are romantically called, to store the huge volumes of ‘produced water’ in the Pilliga State Forest. Each pond will hold enough wasterwater to fill about 240 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
In other CSG extraction areas Santos uses two main processes to treat ‘produced water’:
- desalination (using the process of reverse osmosis to separate salt from water)
- amendment (altering the balance of the water).
‘Treated’ water creates waste. This waste is made up of concentrated salt and pollutants that were diluted in the initial ‘produced water’.
None of these treatment processes create ‘safe’ water that is identical to the water found in various sources on the Earth’s surface or in aquifers. CSG companies cannot match wastewater exactly to its intended place of release. Each body of water has its own unique properties that allow its ecosystems to survive. Despite this, ‘treated’ water is then reinjected back into aquifers or released into waterways or sold to farmers for irrigation.[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [spoiler title=”CSG Figures”]
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Ltd’s (APPEA) latest statistics for Australia’s CSG industry details information such as number of coal seam gas wells, fracture stimulations, water production, signed land access agreements etc. This data is released quarterly by the APPEA. To view click here.[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [/tab] [tab title=”In Our Area”] [frame align=”right”] Gunnedah Basin[/frame] The Liverpool Plains sits on top of the Gunnedah Basin. The Gunnedah Basin forms the central part of the Sydney-Gunnedah Bowen Basin system which extends along the eastern margin of Australia. The Gunnedah Basin covers an area of over 15,000 square kilometres.
Santos is currently the only CSG company with interests in the Liverpool Plains. They are in exploration stage. No CSG production mining is happening on the Liverpool Plains but it is happening in the Gunnedah-Basin[spoiler title=”Santos’s Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) – Gunnedah Basin”] A Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL) gives Santos the exclusive right to explore for petroleum only, in an area covering 1 to 140 five-minute graticular blocks in size. A one minute graticular block is approximately 300 hectares. A PEL lasts for six years. Santos must renew their PEL after this time or apply for a Petroleum Assessment Lease (PAL).
There is a HUGE area of the Gunnedah Basin that Santos is allowed to explore for CSG. Santos’ PEL areas cover more than 62, 000 square kilometres. This area takes in the communities of Gunnedah, Coonabarabran, Scone, Quirindi, Narrabri and Boggabri.
To view Santos’s Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) in our area click here.[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Santos’s CSG Pilot Wells – Gunnedah Basin”]
Santos has two sites on the Gunnedah Basin for coal seam gas exploration; Kahlua and Glasserton. To view where these pilot well sites are located click here.
The Kahlua pilot test area is in the Mary’s Mount area approximately 23km west of Gunnedah.
The Glasserton pilot test area is in the Caroona area approximately 44km south-southeast of Gunnedah. The “Glasserton” property has been owned by Carbon Minerals Limited since 2006 and is 212 hectares in size. To view a satellite image of Glasserton pilot test area click here.
Both Kahlua and Glasserton are in Petroleum Exploration Licence 1 (PEL 1), and target the Hoskisson coal seam. Exploration is operational at the Kahlua site with three monitoring bores (Kahlua 3, 4 & 5) and a central production well (Kahlua 2). However, exploration plans at the Glasserton site have been delayed after locals blockaded the site’s entrance for 20 days in late 2011.
To view an illustration of Santos’s exploration core hole and pilot testing equipment click here.[/spoiler] [/tab] [tab title=”Why No CSG”]
Coal seam gas poses very real and dangerous contamination risks to air, water, soil and the environment.[frame align=”right”][/frame]
It has the potential to damage this area beyond repair. The Liverpool Plains remains vulnerable despite coal seam gas mining already having very real negative impacts on places such as the Pilliga State Forest and waterways such as the Condamine River.
The CSG industry has a very short life-span. The benefits it may bring are finite and the damage it may cause is permanent. The Liverpool Plains has sustained life for aeons. It is renowned for its agriculture, which is the metaphorical heartbeat of communities here. The Liverpool Plains captures hearts. It truly is a remarkable place. A remarkable place well worth saving from coal seam gas.
The coal seam gas companies do not have the Liverpool Plains’ best interests at heart. Only their bottom line. We do not want CSG exploration or production mining here.
Find out more about the Liverpool Plains [divider top=”1″] [box title=”The reasons why CSG is not welcome here” color=”#000066″] [spoiler title=”Reason 1 – Lack of accurate and truthful information”] Liverpool Plains’s residents are very wary of what the CSG industry is telling them. There is no transparency between the industry and the public. Therefore, it can be difficult to separate fact from biased perspective from complete fabrication when this industry provides information.
However, there are serious cracks forming in the industry’s information, and people are becoming more discerning by not just taking the industry’s ‘word-for-it’. They are able to clearly decipher that what they are being told is often not the truth or the whole truth.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 2 – The communities don’t want it!”] A grassroots community initiative is unveiliing how Liverpool Plains’s communities really feel about their area becoming a gasfield. Recent results from this continuing initiative show that an overwhelming majority of 95.9% of community members reject CSG across our local district. That means a whopping 515,000 hectares (1,272,593 acres) on the Liverpool Plains is off-limits to the coal seam gas exploration and mining. The results are pouring in with more results expected soon as other communities in the area take the CSG Free initiative on.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 3 – CSG is Russian Roulette for the Liverpool Plains”] There is simply not enough sound, and careful knowledge that has been accumulated in regards to coal seam gas’s safety. CSG exploration and production is being allowed to expand rapidly in Australia without any thoughtful consideration for the permenant and inerasable footprint left by the industry.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 4 – Thousands of wells 500 metres apart”] If coal seam gas mining were allowed on the Liverpool Plains, Santos ‘say’ they would need a wellhead approximately every 500metres to 1.5kilometres. We know they can be constructed closer.
Santos cannot say, or will not say, how many wells would be built in the Gunnedah Basin if the project proceeds to production. In Queensland, CSG companies have plans for 40,000 wells in the Surat and Bowen basins. If this were to replicate in the Gunnedah Basin even at a quarter of this number we are still facing thousands of wells in this area.[frame align=”center”] An aerial photo of a coal seam gasfield-Tara Queensland[/frame]
Santos favourably play up their well land areas. They provide these measurements:
- 100metres x 100metres for a well in construction
- 6metres x 6metres for a completed well
What Santos neglects to mention is that these measurements are ‘best-case scenario’ measurements. Every well site is not guaranteed to take up minimal amounts of space and not every well is identical in its construction. There is no guarantee they will honour this area size because access agreements are normally constructed in the CSG company’s favour.
Also! It is not just the land that wells take up that we are concerned about. It is also the land needed by CSG companies for the following:
- access roads
- material lay down areas
- a network of pipelines – above ground and underground
- pumping, storage and other facilities
- staff camps and office camps
For the life of a coal seam gas well and beyond we lose valuable arable land. We are looking at a very different Liverpool Plains if CSG is allowed here.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 5 – ‘Produced water’ is not safe”] There are serious concerns for the safety of the surface water, the aquifers, the soil, the environment and people’s health, and our ability to grow food on the Liverpool Plains because of produced water from CSG mining. This wastewater is polluted and salty even after treatment. Current wastewater treatment and diposal does nothing to protect the delicate resources of the Liverpool Plains from irreparable contamination from coal seam gas ‘produced water’.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 6 – Coal seam depressurisation is NOT a good thing!”] Extracting water from deep underground to release coal seam gas dramatically reduces the pressure within the coal seam. This pressure has a purpose and when it is released it disrupts the intricate relationships that exists deep beneath the Earth’s surface.
A drop in sub-surface pressure has the potential to:
- change the pressure of adjacent aquifers with consequential changes in water availability
- reduce surface water flows in connecting systems
- cause land subsidence over large areas. This affects surface water systems, ecosystems, and farming and grazing land.
For the Liverpool Plains, this depressurisation could have disastrous effects on its most valuable resources. There are no alternatives if our aquifers, surface water and land are irremediably altered.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 7 – Clean air + clean water + the ability to grow food + good health = life!”] The people of the Liverpool Plains have the right to clean air and water. They have the right to grow food. They have the right to good health. Coal seam gas puts all of these at risk. It is complete madness to consider putting these ‘fundamental and essential rights’ at risk. It is quite simple really. Deprive us of these ‘rights’ for long enough and we die. That is the morbid truth about what coal seam gas is putting at risk. It is putting at risk the Liverpool Plains’s ability to sustain life.
[/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Reason 8 – This is our home”] Last but definitely not least we are fighting so hard to protect the Liverpool Plains from coal seam gas because it is our home. Anyone that is involved in this campaign against CSG will passionately tell of their connection to their home and why it is important to them.
Home is not just the building we live in. Home is the place, the landscape, the flora and the fauna, the people, the communities, and the opportunities that provide us with genuine happiness, safety, purpose, a future and an undeniable sense of who we are. There is something irreplaceable about that sense of home. It is not a place we willingly stand by and let an industry like coal seam gas destroy.
[/spoiler] [frame align=”center”][/frame] [divider top=”1″] [/box] [spoiler title=”Songs”]
Hear Canadian Ted Butler’s Coal Bed Methane Blues song.
Hear Australia’s Luke Vassella’s The Mighty Dollar song.
Listen to The Chooks Coal Seam Gas song.
Amelia Hayle and Waldo Garrido’s debut single High Ground is a catchy tune.
The CD Whole Lotta Frackin’ Going On is a compilation of 14 songs from a range of genres that present vital information about the dangers of coal seam gas (CSG) mining to our environment, food, water and society.[/spoiler] [/tab] [tab title=”Land Access”]
CSG company access to privately owned land
The Crown is the owner of coal seam gas resources; not landholders. When the State Government grants a CSG company an exploration or production licence, the company must identify where in its licence area it will conduct its activities.
If a CSG company plans to operate on privately owned land, an access agreement must be negotiated between the company and the landholder. Property owners may be offered compensation by the gas company in return for access being allowed.
If an access agreement cannot be negotiated then the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 gives a gas company the right to take the landholder to arbitration and then to court to force access to their land. In New South Wales it is The Land and Environment Court that deals with access agreement matters. Despite this upper hand legally, CSG companies often prefer not to force access in this manner as it creates a hostile environment between them and landholders. It is also unsustainable, and draining on a company’s resources to take every landholder that denies access to court.
CSG company access to government owned land
If a CSG company plans to operate on government owned land, an access agreement must be negotiated between the company and the State Government. An example is the access agreement between the NSW Government and Santos for the Pilliga State Forest in northwest New South Wales.[/tab] [tab title=”Health Risks”]
The people of the Liverpool Plains have legitimate concerns about the impact of coal seam gas extraction will have on their health while this industry has a presence here.
We are being proactive about protecting our health and welfare. We are taking action. Community groups and organisations in the Gunnedah Basin are commissioning a Gunnedah Basin Health Impact Assessment (HIA) so that we fully understand the health and welfare risks coal and CSG mining pose to the residents of the Basin.
Doctors for the Environment Australia have identified three key areas where there is the potential for adverse human health impacts:
- through contamination of water, air and soil
- through diversion of water and land away from agricultural food production
- from mental health impacts on communities who have had environmental changes imposed upon them
It is imperative that the health impacts of CSG are carefully researched. Until public health can be protected with greater certainty, unconventional coal seam gas extraction should be severely limited or banned. Public health must outweigh any commercial and monetary incentives for CSG companies. This industry cannot continue exploring and extracting CSG at break neck speed when public health is not secure.[spoiler title=”The Health Factor Report”]
The Health Factor Report – Ignored by industry, overlooked by government.
In May 2013 Doctors for the Environment released damning evidence on health impacts of coal and CSG in report. The Health Factor report reveals the costly legacy unfolding for Australia from under-regulation of the pollution caused by many resource projects. It describes the failure of governments and resource companies to protect human health and it advocates for health impact assessments to be a mandatory part of the approval processes for any polluting industrial project.
Fluids used for hydraulic fracturing contain a cocktail of chemicals. The coal seam gas industry provides list of chemicals it says are used in coal seam gas fracking operations in Australia. The National Toxics Network has raised various concerns about the environmental and health risks associated with the chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing and has said that these chemicals are not adequately assessed or monitored.
Most Australian state regulators now require full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracture stimulation by CSG companies. This is not always the case. Communities health fears about fracking stem from this non-disclosure about what chemicals are used in the hydraulic fracturing process.
A process known as ‘flowback’ is used by CSG companies to recover injected fraccing fluids. It is impossible for all fluid to be recovered. The industry conservatively assumes 40% of the fracturing fluids may remain in the coal seam. This corresponds to 7400kg of chemicals per injection well contaminating groundwater.[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [spoiler title=”BTEX”]
BTEX is an acronym for the group of chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which are volatile organic coumpounds (VOCs).
BTEX is used in fracking fluids in the United States of America. However, CSG operators are banned in New South Wales and Queensland from using BTEX.
However, BTEX is found naturally in the coal gas seams. Research has found that there are serious risks associated with BTEX chemicals which can be mobilised by the process of hydraulic fracturing.
The National Toxics Network outlines the health hazards associated with exposure to BTEX chemicals as follows: “…in the short term causing skin irritation, central nervous system problems (tiredness, dizziness, headache, loss of coordination) and effects on the respiratory system (eye and nose irritation). Prolonged exposure to these compounds can also negatively affect the functioning of the kidneys, liver and blood system. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can lead to leukaemia and cancers of the blood”.[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Wastewater”]
There are also risks associated with the water produced as a waste product of coal seam gas operations. The National Toxics Network found that this water can contain chemicals used during drilling or fracking, heavy metals (such as arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium), hydrocarbons like BTEX, as well as radioactive elements like uranium and thorium. When coal seam gas waste water is stored in open holding ponds it can pose a serious risk to the surrounding environment and to native animals[divider top=”1″][/spoiler] [/tab] [/tabs]