Wednesday, 2 January 2013

PRA: Water management for the CSG industry

The coal seam gas industry does use a lot of water, not only in the construction of gas fields and supporting infrastructure but most of all in the dewatering process where huge quantities water is pumped out of the aquifer where the coal seams are located so as to be able to extract the gas.   Even the conservative if not sanitised report from the Queensland Water Commission says that “Petroleum tenure holders are predicted to extract approximately 95,000 megalitres of water per year over the life of the industry and this extraction will impact on water levels.”  This impact will largely fall upon landowners depending on bores and springs to water livestock and under licence restrictions irrigate crops.
The image is one developed by QWC with lines drawn on the map where they forecast the long term cumulative impacts of the coal seam gas industry will be on underground water. But already in these early stages of CSG production there are reports of bores outside of the 'affected area' predicted by the QWC showing dropped water levels, diminishing recharge rates and capacity.

The Petroleum Act and until very recently Qld government policy describe this water extracted in CSG production as a waste product. The Qld government invited submissions to a draft Coal Seam Gas Water Management Policy 2012. That submission process is over and the final policy has been released. 

Below are selected extracts from Property Rights Australia submission to the draft policy on CSG water management  

The draft policy correctly states that CSG water should not be treated as a waste product. Underground water is a very important resource and should be treated as such.
Landowners are limited by license in their water use but CSG companies are unfettered. The drawdown of aquifers in CSG areas is a primary concern of Property Rights Australia. Any substitute for clean, reliable underground water is a second grade option and should be recognised as such. Depletion of aquifers which service premium agricultural land sterilises that land and makes it unavailable as a reliable resource for an indispensable commodity, namely food, to future generations. 
“Make good” provisions are littered with uncertainty and unfairness.  The store set in the “make good” provisions by government and public officials is alarming. Government and public officials seem unconcerned at water drawdown and depressurisation as a result of this confidence when these provisions are untested.  Too much weight is being given to the inferior action of “make good” provisions when the EPA will only stop local extraction for catastrophic effects if companies are unable to “make good” or provide substitution. This is not good enough!  “Make good” is a poor substitute for a reliable clean underground water source. 
Well drafted, detailed, step by step “make good” agreements seem to be essential in contracts between landowners and CSG companies operating on landowner’s lands. It remains to be tested how difficult it will be to have the implications implemented and what steps are necessary should a dispute arise.
It is a concern that landowner’s bores experiencing impacts of who do not have a company operating on their property may have to jump through extra hoops to access “make good”. 
It is of concern that Government and public officials have not recognised that water quality is just as important as quantity of water available for landowners. Both crops and livestock can experience reduced performance from lower quality water and if this has been caused by CSG activity it must be recognised as an equally severe impact. 
A major failing of the draft policy is that it does not recognise any other contaminant present in CSG water other than salt. The policy does recognise that the quality of CSG water varies greatly. The amount and composition of remaining chemical elements and compounds needs to be known on a consignment by consignment basis.  Once treated the CSG water should be put to a suitable beneficial use. However it needs to be recognised that brine is not the only contaminant present in CSG water. Farmlands, farm aquifers and stock watering facilities should not be put at risk of contamination by any chemical elements and compounds that can cause impairment including substances such as heavy metals.
There are emerging new technologies of water treatment that when used as a replacement of or in tandem to the existing reverse osmosis water treatment plants will provide a far superior result in quality of water available to beneficial water uses and for the less volume of waste produced. 
The draft policy in Section 1.1, Priority 1 states that, “Appropriate plans are in place for mitigating short and long term impacts” It would be a far more satisfactory approach if proactive research is carried out to learn of possible impacts before they occur rather than continuing with the flawed “adaptive management” approach inherited from the previous Government. 
Baseline data needs to be ascertained; priority given to a comprehensive network of monitoring bores including bores to different aquifers at the same geographic location; the level of connectivity between aquifers needs careful research and the work of the Queensland Water Commission soon to be carried out by the new statutory body. Office of Underground Water Assessment should be independent & transparent.

There is no substitute for a clean, reliable underground water supply. All other options are vastly inferior.


  1. I have yet to see a real solution to the threat to underground water including the Great Artesian Basin, Dale. Easier to imagine there is no real threat or as is the case with the pollution in Gladstone Harbour, the crazy theory that nature will somehow heal itself.
    I read on another site recently where water from gas wells was being sprayed on roads in the area even when it was raining, as one way of trying to cope with the excess water problem along with the contaminants it contains.

  2. This is from the local newspaper online site. How long will it be before the same thing happens in other camps that they are building all over the place.
    It must be remembered that Councils have no power to have input into the "workers camps" because of special legislation passed by Bligh. This means that the LNG/CSG companies are "self regulating" and set their own standards which now appear to not be working and are in fact putting Miners lives at risk because of the lack of expert testing by the relevant authorities (usually Council)

    A MINING camp in central Queensland has been shut down after the discovery of the potentially fatal Legionella bacteria in its water system.

    Company sources told the Courier Mail the camp, run by Italian company Saipem for the Santos-controlled GLNG project, near Bauhinia, west of Gladstone, had been declared a "no go zone" after the identification of the Legionella bacteria.

    A Santos spokesman said the bacteria was found during routine testing by Saipem.

    "Saipem advises that as is standard practice, a follow-up test was conducted to confirm the initial result, and the camp was closed," the spokesman said.

    "Following Saipem's standard protocols, the pipes in the camp will be cleaned and treated to kill the bacteria, until which time the camp will remain closed.

    "Saipem advises no workers who were at the camp before its closure have reported any symptoms."

    Legionnaires disease is a type of pneumonia and while some people infected with the bacteria can have mild or no symptoms, it can also be fatal.

  3. The issues of drilling safely through aquifers (eg the Great Artesian basin) en route to the gas - bearing coal seams, and handling of co production water, or co water, are entirely separate, but greatly misunderstood.

    Firstly, there is absolutely no reason that drilling cannot be safe, and drill holes very safely cased. This isn't rocket science, it is readily achievable 100% of the time using proper, authorised techniques. Of course if you are dealing with cowboys - well, there is no excuse for that, either.

    The new regulations dealing with co-water, as finalised only a couple of months ago and linked to by Dale in his introduction (copy and paste to your browser - I still haven't found the time to master the magic html processes ;-) are, IMHO, very thorough.

    Elsewhere on this very site, all over the web, the issue of Can Farming Survive, is being addressed. I would put to you all, revenue to the farmer from CSG extraction may be the difference between remaining viable or turning off the lights, so do NOT dismiss it lightly, or without really trying to get a thorough understanding of what is going on. I for one know of good farmers who are quite happy with CSG arrangements they have been able to make, although I am a mere urbanite.
    Cheers al

  4. The requirements in place over recent years for the casing of drill holes are as you say safe if followed properly. Talking to the drillers and most companies are doing the right thing but there are a couple taking many shortcuts.
    There is a problem with old exploration holes that are largely uncased & not sealed. Then there is the great unknown of how much natural connectivity there is between the aquifers. Talking to hydrogeologists it could be the pressure in each aquifer that maintains each aquifer with its different water quality. What happens when one aquifer is depressurised by CSG activity? Will the water from aquifers above and below then mirgrate to the depressured one?

    Valid point about economic return for the landowner and it can work out that way in an ideal world. First the gas companies are still trying to pay as least as they can. Second in some fields the amount of wells and the amount of CSG associated activity means that its impossible for the landowner to continue their business and they would been better off selling the land to the company at the begining. Third if when the CSG industry is finished with your land and there is either no quanity or quality of water to be able to conduct your agricultural business; what was the value of the short term payments?

    1. Dale, my geology training was many, many years ago and in no way am I trying to put myself up as expert in any of this, and obviously i have no skin in the game.

      BUT co-water extracted along with the methane is not from an aquifer, it is itimately bound within the coal seam. Artesian sources of water are indeed from aquifers, with the water trapped in a potentially fluid state in porus strata, where it is kept locked away by impervious strata above and below - eg the coal seam - until 'freed' by tapping it. I can't see any reason why water extracted from the coal seam should contaminate, or alter the potential yield from aquifers.
      Cheers al

    2. Al, I haven't time right now to find links to back this up but I have talked to the man in Qld with the best understanding of the Great artesian Basin,hydrogeologist John Hillier and others as well. From what I understand from my very limited knowledge that this is an extremily complex series of systems to try and understand. There is no black & white 100% imperiability. The CSG isn't technically in an aquifer but a coal measure. For example the Walloon Coal measures; refer to the map above for the black line where landowners are going to be affected who use the Walloons. That's right use water out of the coal measures.CSG water varies a lot in quality and especially on the Darling Downs itself the Walloons has fair enough quality for use for irrigation and for livestock. There is a lot of water in this coal measure that it is to by affect also an aquifer.
      No Al, connectivity as I said before is the big unknown. I'm at kindergarden level with this stuff and the experts who have spent a lifetime studying the aqifer systems tell me there is a lot more to be learnt about them yet.

    3. Something that on reflection isn't quite right above. The irrigation on the inner Darling Downs is out of the condamine allivium which sits above the walloons. But these two are that highly connected that if you dewater the walloons to all intents & purpose you have pulled the plug on the condamine allivium.

  5. Don't the Qld Water Commission's own reports or their draft report last year, refer to potential drastic effects on underground bore levels and aquifers? That was my understanding. Also reading thru all this again reminds me of how similar it is to what we have been hearing about Gladstone Harbour - how dredging hasn't impacted water quality to any significant degree, they are using world's best practice, there is no risk to the GBR, etc. Now they have a whole new much bigger flood to try to blame for effects we have been seeing for the past two years. Forget about heavy metals, acid sulphate soils, no silt curtains, keep dredging on the biggest tides, time is money...

    1. John, if you read the new regulations dating from end 2012 to which Dale posted a link above, you will see that they supercede all that earlier woolly stuff. They are quite straight forward and confident. Nothing in life is 100% without risk, but IMHO this is manageable risk stuff.

      If you read on the topic more widely, you will see that the hot topic is now trying to ensure that Australians, and Australian industry, get access to the bountiful and very valuable (energy - wise) resource before it is all exported!
      Cheers al

  6. Time will tell, but as Dale said, it's a very complicated situation and hydrogeologist expert John Hillier doesn't seem too convinced. All the regulations in the world won't necessarily prevent environmental damage. I keep harping about Gladstone but its a good analogy. They just ignore the regulations and the cash-strapped governments turn a blind eye. Will be interesting to hear what UNESCO says about that.


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