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Nov 15, 2010

What the frack? Natural gas debate flares up in Australia

Pennsylvanian home owner Josh Fox suspected something funny was going on when he received a letter in September 2006 from a natural gas company offering him over US$100,000 to "explore"

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Pennsylvanian home owner Josh Fox suspected something funny was going on when he received a letter in September 2006 from a natural gas company offering him over US$100,000 to “explore” his family’s property.

Unlike many of his neighbours, Fox refused to sign on the dotted line. He started asking questions and began making a documentary about natural gas mining despite having no experience in filmmaking.

He knew he was onto something big several months later when he watched one of his neighbours turn on the kitchen tap and light the water that came out of it on fire.

Fox’s award-winning documentary Gasland, which opens in Australia this week, is a frighteningly real riff on the “something’s funny in the water” horror story concept – a film about the production of natural gas and particularly the impact hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) has on people and the environment.

Fracking — or “coal seam exploration,” as it is known here — occurs when a hole is drilled hundreds of metres into the ground and is pumped full of highly toxic chemicals mixed with water. This forces the rock base to crack and releases the natural gas contained within. A large part of the mixture remains underground, which means some of it resurfaces, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Gasland documents the funny things that began happening to the water in Fox’s community. It turned a different colour, became thicker and started to smell funny. Reports surfaced about animals losing their hair, families getting sick and one who could prove their water was so contaminated it had become flammable.

In the US the natural gas industry was granted an exemption from standard environmental controls — namely the 1972 Clean Water Act — by the Bush administration in 2005. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney is a major stakeholder in Halliburton, one of the main players in natural gas exploration.

Fox went cross-country and encountered the same story from state to state. The film’s overarching hypothesis is simple: that the perception of natural gas as a clean energy resource dangerously ignores the process by which it is captured. He arrived in Australia last week, just at a time in which our own debate about fracking is starting to generate headlines.

At a Q&A discussion panel held on the weekend after a screening of the film at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, Greens MP Adam Bandt was asked whether Australia was immune to the problems associated with some 500,000 natural gas mining sites in America.

His response was simple: “it’s already happening.”

Yesterday The Sun-Herald’s Heath Ashton broke a story about the NSW government granting approval for gas miner Macquarie Energy to begin drilling a test well.

In Queensland three coal seam exploration projects have recently been given a green light. Farmers are witnessing a growing number of gas mines dot their land, inspiring some to stage a “lock the gate” campaign, which is unusual in the sense that farmers and environmentalists are fighting for the same cause.

The Greens believe Queensland will have up to 40,000 coal seam wells by 2030. Unsurprisingly, the natural gas industry in Australia are lobbying hard against the film’s findings.

One of Bandt’s fellow panelists, Dr Shane Huntington from Triple R, arrived at the cinema wielding a wad of documents. He said they were sent to him by representatives of the gas mining industry to “inform” him of the their take on the science prior to the film’s screening.

“I’ve heard two versions of this story in the last 24 hours,” he said.

“One was from a group that has a lot at stake (and) one from a person who has little or nothing personally but a lot at stake for the rest of us. I’m tending towards one, which I’m sure all of you are, but the reality is they (the natural gas industry) are damn good at putting this crap out.”

The natural gas debate arrives in Australia at an interesting time. After admitting to — *gasp* — not having much in common with Bob Katter, Bandt used our current hung parliament as a cause for optimism on energy related legislation.

“One of the good things about the election results and where we’re at now is that no party has total power over what happens in parliament,” he said. “Every piece of legislation needs the support of people working on the cross benches.”

The Greens are pushing for a moratorium on natural gas production and an ongoing public debate.

Generating media interest is something Josh Fox has been remarkably successful in achieving. He has toured with the film since January and has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, inspired stories from CNN and 60 Minutes and even a fracking-themed episode of CSI.

Hundreds of grass roots organisations have sprouted up to campaign against fracking and natural gas mining. In Australia, the list is growing.

Early indications suggest natural gas debate is generating substantial media exposure, which, according to Bandt, is partly attributed to the government’s current parliamentary structure.

“Before if the two parties agreed on something it wasn’t conflict, therefore it wasn’t a news story, therefore it wasn’t reported,” he said.

“Now we’re in an era where there’s a lot more sunlight being shone on these things and the government can’t presume it will get its way on energy related issues.”

Josh Fox is staying in Australia after the Gasland PR tour concludes. In coming weeks he will visit the Hunter Valley with a view to filming a sequel.

40 comments

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40 thoughts on “What the frack? Natural gas debate flares up in Australia

  1. Mark Duffett

    …Japan’s nuclear disaster involves reactors where the containment systems were specially designed to withstand earthquakes. An earthquake happened, the containment failed. That would have been bad enough on its own apart from the tsunami damaging some supporting infrastructure.

    Apart from veering way off topic, this is a serious misrepresentation. The Fukushima reactors largely withstood the earthquake, even though its magnitude was well beyond the design spec. It was the tsunami that took out the backup cooling systems and primarily caused the subsequent problems, including the containment breach.

  2. Mary Roe

    Practicing some necromancy here. Just wanted to point out that Japan’s nuclear disaster involves reactors where the containment systems were specially designed to withstand earthquakes. An earthquake happened, the containment failed. That would have been bad enough on its own apart from the tsunami damaging some supporting infrastructure.

    It is incredible that someone can spout forth claims of fracking being “clean” when there is so much evidence to the contrary. The claim that “drilling is a very precise art” when most drilling is practised by people who have been taught, “here’s the on switch, there’s the off switch, go drill me a hole.” Sure, there’s one guy on the team who has maps of the geological formations, but he doesn’t have the power to say, “stop drilling,” when the drill goes wrong, the rock fractures, and the stainless steel liner doesn’t maintain a constant seal with the sides of the hole they just drilled.

    There are so many things that go wrong when drilling, and in this case especially we can’t simply apply concrete to fill in the gaps. The drilling starts, cracks form (because that’s the aim of this endeavour after all), the gas pressure builds up, gas and toxin-laden water are forced into the water supply. It is simple physics.

    As for the issues of renewables – we need to budget our energy expenditure to the level that can be sustained on renewables. For many people this means facing the scary prospect of heading out into the yard to play footy with the kids instead of plonking down in an airconditioned room to watch footy on the 150cm flatscreen TV.

    Coal-seam gas is a dirty industry – just because it is “less dirty” than open cut mining doesn’t mean it’s clean. There’s water, air and noise pollution as a start, not to mention the permanent degradation of the community’s infrastructure due to heavy vehicles using roads which were built to handle combine harvesters.

    Let’s have public reporting about the contents of coal-seam gas effluent. What’s in that water? How much lead, boron, arsenic, etc? Where is the sludge being buried or incinerated?

    You can’t counter a demonstration of flammable levels of methane in drinking water by stating, “it’s not supposed to be possible.” Address the facts of Gasland, explain how the things that are observed are due to marsh gas or weather balloons instead of trying to use Jedi mind tricks, waving your hand and claiming, “this is not the pollution you’re looking for.”

    Some useful science in this regard could be to find plants which take up large quantities of the chemicals you’re trying to get rid of. Encourage those plants to grow in the surrounds, and then figure out how to process those plants to extract the chemicals that are of value (such as creating biodiesel and collecting the arsenic-rich effluent from that process).

    Turn the poisoning of the land into a selling point: sure we can’t grow food here anymore, but look! Biodiesel!

  3. Eponymous

    Yes yes Kim, Mark might stand to benefit personally from an increase in nuclear power. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

    Focus on the issues and tell me why he’s wrong, not who he is.

  4. Kim

    Mr. Mark Duffy, Deputy Director General, Minerals & Energy, Industry & Investment NSW

  5. Mark Duffett

    At least you’re no NIMBY (a species I despise), Mr Monk, I dips me lid to you on that score. You clearly have it in for fossil fuels generally and CSG in particular.

    Your alternatives are looking a bit thin, though. I’d be interested in why you “hate the thought of nuclear”.

  6. brian monk

    Hey Belle,
    what a post!!!!! I’ll grab a dictionary tomorrow.
    Coal Seam Gas is not sustainable that is why so much legislation needs to be changed for it to even commence. Now please don’t make me dig out the sections, wont do your cause any good to have me post it, start by looking at Qld legislation changed in 2010 by our own Robertson, check it out.
    Now I believe there is a glut of Gas in the world, QGC a BG group has an order but not enough gas, Origin I’m told has gas and no order, so why dont we get them to slowly test the impacts this industry will have on the great artesian basin, air quality, toxicity.
    I think these bloggs and the resistance being mounted as well as the Governments feeling the pressure must be making their investors anxious, if it isn’t it should be. So why not do the science first, do this safely if it can be done safely.

    So solar can supply 22%, good, I’ll take that, great place to start, lets add wind, tide, hydro, the new technology being developed by the CSIRO, solar heats the water and they believe will super heat steam for power generation as it is further developed, as well as super capacitors. And who knows what we might develop if we cut the umbilical cord to fossil fuels. I hate the thought of nuclear, so we can strongly agree on that point.

    I’m having major net issues tonight so if it is of interest to anyone I will post some of the changes in legislation tomorrow, tried to access them tonight but no luck, sorry, has been a couple more changes yesterday, I’m keen to check them out.

    Now anyone in other states, watch your legislators, this industry cannot exist without major changes to water and air pollution laws, as well as changes to water extraction laws. I’m presuming 3 or so decades ago all states had governments who were interested in providing safety for it’s peoples and legislated so, those laws have to be changed, have to be, otherwise this industry cannot exist.

    Now before the debunkers choose to assassinate me, please let me complete this post, i will add the types of legislation to look for, the ones changed in Qld, then let people form their own opinion, not mine, do the research.

    Back tomorrow.

  7. bellebodybeautiful

    so…what to do?

    The gas juggernaught gets stopped dead in its tracks, delayed for long enough that it becomes over-run by..by..er…something else, or the vociferous but poorly informed (except by headline and innuendo) actually understand what really happens in the resource proposed near them rather than 20,000 km in another country.

    But as Buckmaster demonstrates, it is too hard to learn a subject you never studied in life and use emotion and randomly unconnected events tennuosly tied together and trying to present it as a integrated arguement.

    Anyway, ..lets assume juggernaught stopped, vociferous luddites get their wish and never have to open a dense and heavy book again to try and understand technical matters.

    The proposal is to..do..er um..er..what? Looks like the power needs will be met by that most glorious of CARBON-FREE technologies, where Australia has a world leading abundance. Solar supplying 22% of energy needs every day, coupled with nuclear supplying the other 78%.

    I’ll bet you that is not the outcome they were hoping for, but that caravan is slowly but surely the inevitable outcome. Didn’t think of that did you.

  8. Kim

    Some more links for you, Epynomous. These are a sample of many thousands available on the web that point to the health-related issues surrounding gas exploration and production… mainly from the US, but now the same list of symptoms are showing up in Australia:

    Links for Health –Realted Issues and Fracking Fluids

    1. HEALTH RISKS OF HYDRO-FRACKING CHEMICALS
    http://ccetompkins.org/energy/natural-gas/health-risks-hydro-fracking-chemicals

    2. TCEQ sees no evil in current gas industry oversight. Texas family sees otherwise.

    http://earthblog.org/content/tceq-sees-no-evil-current-gas-industry-oversight-texas-family-sees-otherwise

    3. PA List of Fracking Chemicals Includes Possible Carcinogens, Other Toxins

    http://www.newsinferno.com/health-concerns/pa-list-of-fracking-chemicals-includes-possible-carcinogens-other-toxins/

    4. Poisoned families: four case studies of the impacts of dirty drilling in the Barnett Shale

    http://earthblog.org/content/poisoned-families-four-case-studies-impacts-dirty-drilling-barnett-shale

    5. Community Survey Reveals Health Impacts in Pavillion, WY Gas-field

    http://earthblog.org/content/community-survey-reveals-health-impacts-pavillion-wy-gas-field

    6. New analysis highlights toxin findings
    State agency looks at risks from compounds found at gas facilities

    http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dws/drc/localnews/stories/DRC_Analysis_0630.f16db0a2.html

    7. Woman who lived near gas fields dies
    Elizabeth Mobaldi became sick around the time rigs moved into her neighborhood near Rifle

    http://www.postindependent.com/article/20101117/VALLEYNEWS/101119897/1001&parentprofile=1074

    8. Claims of illnesses and cover-up as D-day looms for coal seam gas projects

    http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/claims-of-illnesses-and-cover-up-as-d-day-looms-for-coal-seam-gas-projects/story-e6freqmx-1225941426413

    9. Putting the Heat on Gas

    http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2007/115-2/forum.html

    10. Michigan Woman’s Sad Plight

    http://a4gda.blogspot.com/2010/04/michigan-womans-sad-plight.html

    11. Environmental Concerns Rise in Northeastern Pennsylvania as Natural Gas Drilling Spreads

    http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/Environmental-Concerns-Rise-in-Northeastern-Pennsylvania-as-Natural-Gas-Drilling-Spreads-80502507.html

  9. Kim

    As requested, some facts for you from the industry, from science and from university research to substantiate my claims, Epynomous:

    Firstly, coal seam gas is actually far worse for the environment than shale seam gas because of the larger volumes of produced water. In “Gas Today”, the article “New Frontiers in Gas Exploration”( May 2010) states the following: “Three key benefits of shale gas when compared to CSG: 1. The potential to obtain high initial gas flow rates. 2. The ability to ‘choke back’ production. 3. The absence of produced water in shale gas once the fracture stimulation fluid is recovered.” Point two of this quote points to the fact that shale seam gas wells can be “choked back”, whilst coal seam gas wells cannot be switched off once they have been fracked. Vented methane that is not flared is 21 times worse as a greenhouse gas pollutant than burning coal.

    Secondly, according to Professor Robert Howarth of Cornell University: “Greenhouse gas emissions from HVSWHF-obtained natural gas are estimated to be 60% more than for diesel fuel and gasoline”. His study looks includes such issues as methane gas well leakage (an average of 20% of each well during its lifetime), as well as the requisite generators and many thousand of truck movements required at each well for the various phases of this process. (You can find this on the Cornell University website.)

    Thirdly, for well-researched and documented health effects of this industry, I recommend that you look up the following Endocrine Disruption Exchange links:
    1. For more details on the following: “Extracting, processing, and burning fossil fuels (natural gas, oil and coal) introduces huge volumes of harmful chemicals into our environment. These chemicals, and the tens of thousands of chemical products synthesized from them, are now present in every environment on earth, including the womb. Extremely low concentrations of many chemicals can damage the endocrine system of our bodies by interfering with the intricate, delicate network of natural chemical interactions critical to healthy development and normal function.”, follow this link: http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/endocrine.fossilfuel.php

    2. For details on documented and researched health effects of drilling and fracking chemicals, and then open up “EDX’s manuscript Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective “ It is stated here that this “has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.” Here is the link: http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.introduction.php
    On this same website, you will find both industry-referenced and medical research information.

    Finally, in Australia each PEL is dealt with on an individual case basis by each state body. The only regulatory authority of the PEL conditions is the issuer. In NSW, this is the Department of Industry and Investment. Government bodies such as Department of the Environment, Climate Change and Water and the Department of Planning have no authority to oversee or regulate this industry. This is due to a loophole in our own Australian laws, whereby “Coal Seam Gas” is not mentioned in any of the acts of legislation, because it is a relatively new industry to this country. Interesting to note that the Department of Industry and Investment also derives income from the industry that it attempts to regulate. Finally, the NSW coal seam gas industry is not covered by the ‘Protection of the Environment Operations Act’ or the ‘NSW Water Act’ or the “Federal Water Act’. (Source for the final piece of information: AGL in July 2010.)

  10. Eponymous

    Whether I’m on your side or not Kim, this statement:
    “Regardless of all the technicalities of drilling, the constituents of fracking fluids and the supposed “regulation” of this industry, the fact remains that wherever methane gas exploration and production is undertaken, a host of serious problems follow.”

    Is far too bold not to substantiate.

  11. Kim

    Regardless of all the technicalities of drilling, the constituents of fracking fluids and the supposed “regulation” of this industry, the fact remains that wherever methane gas exploration and production is undertaken, a host of serious problems follow. These problems did not exist before the advent of gas exploration and production in the various areas. There are thousands of documented cases of groundwater contamination’, as well as contamination of streams and dams. There are repeated incidences of illegal dumping of reportable waste. There are repeated cases where the regulatory bodies have no authority to deal with infringements of licencing conditions. There are sick and dying animals. People are getting sick and dying: a recent medically documented case was a woman in the USA who was found to have fracking fluids in her organ tissues upon post-mortem examination. Properties values drop and many become unsaleable. Farming productivity is inhibited. Land becomes contaminated with excessive salt, volatile organic compounds and radio nuclei ides. The air becomes polluted with volatile organic compounds and unsafe levels of ozone. The companies buy peoples silence by making them sign non-disclosure statements in return for various forms of compensation. The overarching issue world-wide is that peoples’ rights have been usurped by governments who hand them over to multi-national corporations. It is state-sponsored theft of peoples’ property, as well as their right to live in a healthy environment.
    PS Last time I checked, radio nuclei ides (a constituent of Halliburton fracking fluids) were not on the biodegradable list!

  12. Mark Duffett

    I finally took up the invitation @3, in the absence of anything else. Amongst a great deal of ignorant credulity, here’s what I found.

    I’m sure many will discount this on the basis of that laziest of critiques, namely the self-interest of the source, as if that were itself sufficient to invalidate the information. And sure, there’s the odd rabid fellow-traveller there. But here is, so to speak, the good oil, from a chap named Matt:

    As a petroleum engineer, I found this film to be a joke. Drilling and completing a well is a very complicated event. It requires a thorough understanding of geophysics, thermodynamics, strength of materials and metallurgy, fluid dynamics and most importantly, a comprehensive understanding for environmental regulation. Since a very large percentage of the public does not understand these concepts, they do not understand that 99% of Josh Fox’s claims are physically impossible and absurd. I cannot say that we are perfect at our jobs, but nobody can. What I can say, is that our industry is strictly governed by environmental state and federal agencies. We’re required to report everything we do to these agencies. We spend large amounts of capital on job execution to insure our operations are meeting and exceeding these guidelines. To touch on hydraulic fracturing, when people hear “chemicals,” they often equate that to “bad.” These chemicals are no more harmful than anything you can find at the grocery store. Most are actually biodegradable. When producing intervals are frac’d at extremely high pressures and temperatures, these “chemicals” react and break down into harmless elements. Once the frac is done, these fluids are produced back to surface (inside several inches of solid steel..i.e…the casing), contained in tanks and treated back to non-potable water by third party businesses offsite (per environmental regulations). The public must also understand that these fracs are 2-6 km below surface. To initiate a hydraulic fracture requires an enormous amount of pressure via a series of pumps. Even with these pump outputs, hydraulic fractures are generally 25-50 m vertically, less than 5 cm wide at the widest point (near wellbore) and less than 600 m horizontally. It defies the laws of physics to think that a hydraulic fracture can travel thousands of metres back near surface and penetrate aquifer. The downward over-burden stress from kilometres of impermeable rock layers above will not allow it. Therefore, Josh Fox’s animations on his website are simply wrong. It is also well known by geologists, environmental agencies and petroleum engineers that algae growth is common in natural aquifers. This algae undergoes biogenic processes much like garbage in landfills and emits natural gas as a by-product. Technically, you could drill a well into one of these aquifers and produce small volumes of natural gas for years. So, if your tap catches on fire, you can bet algae is the culprit. Hopefully people will understand that hydraulic fracturing is nothing like Mr. Fox’s claims.

    It must be pointed out that in the case of the Surat Basin, the producing depth is something like 700 m rather than the 2-6 km which is more typical of conventional natural gas. However, while this means the fraccing pressures required will be correspondingly less, that’s still a lot of overburden pressure. Together with a series of aquitards in the overlying stratigraphy, this means near surface hydrology will not be affected.

    Note that it’s not just the regulations (not to mention the laws of physics) mentioned by Matt that will enforce this. If fraccing did somehow manage to permit escape of chemical agents to the water table, all the gas goodies they’re trying to capture would go with it. So everyone convinced that capitalist greed is the root of all evil should realise that the profit motive is acting to keep a very tight lid on the process as well.

  13. Kim

    Hey Mark, being the good exponent of capitalism and economic activity, I thought I’d let you in on some good investment prospects that you would be crazy to miss out on! There are some bargain buy-up properties in the Surat Basin that you would love. They come with loads of bonus infrastructure such as large swimming pools, mazes of new roads, amazing pipelines and unique salt sculptures. You will have access to energy galore… you might even get your own free natural gas supply in your new home – free of charge forever! The place is just buzzing with excitement – much of it for 24 hours a day. If you are a man’s man, you can look forward to a few beers with the boys every night. It’s a non-stop party atmosphere… it’s a real gas! If you like to get high by yourself, you can just go for a walk instead and enjoy soaking up the volatile organic compounds. Alternatively, if you are the funky type, just get down into the groove with the buzz of the compressor stations. You really should get in before it is too late. Make an investment in your future. Be close to the action in this breathtaking gas bonanza.

  14. brian monk

    Hey Mark, great research, impressive. You seem to post in business hours, any reason for that??? That aside, great research, I live with this and cant be motivated to check every page out, that said i doubt you did either, and i didn’t write the document, don’t blame me..
    I concede, you must be right, my concerns for my environment, the greater environment are misplaced, the toxins do not exist. The farming land destroyed will be so insignificant that no impact will ever be felt, not that our land would be deemed import to the rural economy. The water will not be polluted,the aquifers will not be effected, even though the industry admits it will be. And I now believe that economic activity at any cost is to be recommended, that swelling the multinationals pockets at the expense of little Australians is to be condoned. Sorry, the sarcasm came out to play. So Mark, are you Australian, are you living in the city, does global warming concern you, do you work in the industry or associated with it. That said, I’m new to all this, I only know how I feel, how many in my community feel, but I know we don’t count. So, I can move, some in the community cannot, but when it eventually moves me and I read the paper and find beef and crops from the area are no longer accepted internationally due to toxins, that Australian food export has lost it’s clean green status, that now we have to consume it, I’m going to say, good thing, economic activity, good thing, tastes great.
    But, well done, good work should be applauded. Having said that, do you think the people who pay you would like you to post with the same enthusiasm the other side of the argument, you mentioned debate, place some of this enthusiasm into the other side of the story. If not, a lot of people out there have the expertise to do this research, please give it a go, I’m out of my depth,
    thanks Brian

  15. Eponymous

    Whether or not previous environmental sins were committed by Communist regimes is neither here nor there; in my ethics every project with potential impact on the environment should be considered on its own merits, and not compared to the worst performers in some sort of environmental race to ‘not be the worst’.

    Also, I didn’t want it to sound as dramatic as all that. Just that this is another project where enrivonmentalists think it’s a disaster and the financiers and project organisers think it’s the bees knees. I just think the truth, as always, lies somewhere between these extreme views.

  16. Mark Duffett

    Brian@22, yes, please forgive me for baulking at 65Mb and 960 pages. But I have looked at your page 64, the Jammat block.

    85 km access track, 3-4 m wide = 34 ha, but note this is a maximum as existing tracks (which appear extensive on the airphoto) will be used wherever practical.
    115 km gathering line (pipe in trench) right-of-way = 23 ha being generous, and the vast bulk of this will be rehabilitated.
    1 borrow pit (8 ha).
    Camp for 1000 construction personnel: 40 ha including waste treatment facilities (probably won’t be on the Jammat block, but throw it in anyway).
    119 wells x 2 ha (construction footprint + pond) = 238 ha, including areas that will be rehabilitated.

    Total project footprint: 343 ha in construction, maybe two thirds of this in operational mode

    Block area: 7661 ha.

    This equates to ‘total devastation’? An ‘industrial wasteland’?

    I’m also struggling to see the issue with being within 2 km of a compressor station. From pg 40

    Any condensed water that has been removed from the gas at the FCS (approximately 40m3 per day), or stormwater from bunded areas will be passed through an oily water separation system and clean water will be pumped to a water treatment plant. Separated oil will be transported by a licensed waste disposal contractor to an appropriate off-site facility.

    …and the problem with this is…? What do you mean by “we average contamination every month or so”?

    In short, failing further evidence to the contrary, I stand by my initial risk assessment above.

    As for “…the increase in vehicles…they carry pipes, drilling rods, camp huts, equipment and remove effluent…more money from the governments to provide infrastructure…run generators for camps, pumps for gas, water, fracking fluids. Bulldozers, excavators, cars, graders…” Brian, this is called ‘economic activity’. Despite what you might read in these parts, most people (particularly those for whom it puts food on their table) consider it to be a good thing.

    Speaking of which, Evonymous, I think it’s rather muddying the waters (pardon the pun) to frame this as environment v capitalism, when everyone knows (or should) that many of the most egregious industrial environmental sins were committed by communist regimes, particularly over the last half-century or so. Can we just say these projects are satisfying a demand, and leave it at that?

  17. Eponymous

    Fracking is definitely used in Australia to search for Nat gas and coal seam methane.
    http://www.originenergy.com.au/news/article/asxmedia-releases/1231

    It is also used extensively in the geothermal industry, with some projects being shut down (in Germany, the States and Australia) due to community fears about seismic events.

    The chemical injected into the wells is a cocktail of hydrocarbons called BTEX
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BTEX

    However, it is not used in Australia and has since been banned by at least the Qld government, possibly others also.

    But, that doesn’t mean the process is completely safe. NatGas rarely forms in complete isolation though, and along with the methane there are likely to be other hydrocarbons, all up and down the organic chemistry chain.

    This is where the risks of fracking arise, even without the use of BTEX; pressurising the water table will force water into different cracks and crevices, that’s the idea, and could thus force hydrocarbons from their current resting place to somewhere new, like the water table. Whether or not this happens frequently is an open question, but it is without doubt a hazard of the process that needs to be managed.

    I’m personally surprised that Clover Moore has allowed fracking in the St Peters exploration license in Sydney. Not that it’s dangerous, but that it’s risky, which politicians rarely have a taste for.

    Mark and others, I suepect the ‘other side of the story’ is that when the gas comes up, someone sells it and makes money. Is there really anything more to tell than that? It’s an age old story of the environment at loggerheads with capitalism.

  18. brian monk

    Sorry to come back, Bill your comment is a great one but the fracking fluid is a trade secret so they say, I think the Qld Gov is trying to gain accurate info on the chemicals but to this day I don’t think that has happened, can someone comment on this, thanks Brian.

    As i say nice thought but not sure it can work

  19. brian monk

    Wow, just lost a comment, don’t press the preview button.

    Well Mark here i am to reply, thank you for giving me that encouragement.

    I didn’t pluck out those figures in fact, but I am so happy to comment on them.

    Mark you didn’t read the link did you, read the link before you comment again.

    The figures quoted do not adequately describe the 3 small sub blocks of Kenya East, Jammat and Celeste. They are part of 19 blocks in the Jordan field, this field is 145,000 Ha. The Jordan field forms part of the project of approx 86 blocks. Not included are the pipelines that travel to Curtis island. They also do not include fracking ponds, roads, gathering lines for water and gas, camps, the list truly goes on. Please look for the truth, read their document, not mine theirs, read the document. Maybe a debunk-er can check the figures for me, maybe in excel format please. I need it for future comments. For QGC’s, sorry British Gas’s attention please.
    Don’t forget though this is one of four projects in total, starting to add up yet?????

    Now they propose a compressor station 2 or so kilometers uphill from home, sounds ok, but these compressors dehydrate the gas, can’t pump wet gas. The water, product water contains, BTEX unless it is banned in your state, it is up here but we average contamination every month or so. Hydrogen Sulfide, Nitrogen Oxides, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Sulphur Dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds. Please see http://www.oqap.org. So living where I do doesn’t look too good, we have grandchildren living on the property. Having said that, AGL has wells within 200 meters of a school at Broke in the Hunter Valley, or so I’m told, AGL please comment here.

    Everyone neglects to tell you about the increase in vehicles, they burn fuel, they carry pipes, drilling rods, camp huts, equipment and remove effluent. The local councils are calling for more money from the governments to provide infrastructure, how much is Anna making out of this. They also run generators for camps, pumps for gas, water, fracking fluids. Bulldozers, excavators, cars, graders. They are also hinting at importing labour, fly in and out no doubt, so more riches leaving the country.

    This is digressing, this is not a clean energy.

    We have yet to mention the salt, they say they will have the technology to deal with it in the future, don’t see that happening, universities please comment here, lots of money to be made on that one. 350,000 to 500,000 mega liters of saline water, now that is a lot. Recently a clay walled pond was covered in, salt and all, does anyone care, doesn’t seem so.

    This is coming to neighborhood near you, or maybe we can group together and stop it now.

    Remember this gas is not for us, it is going overseas, it will last 20 to 30 years, multi nationals will make a bucket load of cash, we will have a mess that even they say they cannot clean up totally.

    This is every state, every capital on the east coast at least, sorry SA and WA and NT, I know it is there but I don’t know your situation, please comment.

    Seems Australian, not to me, please take the time to browse across the document and correct my mistakes so that next time I can be more accurate, thanks Brian

  20. Mark Duffett

    @drew,

    so that’s 334 x 1 ha + 8 x 32 ha + 94 ha, yes?

    = 684 ha.

    Out of 145,000 ha. That’s less than 0.5%.

    This equates to “devastation of the entire region”?

    Mr Monk, please feel free to correct me if I’ve got these numbers (derived entirely from drew’s contribution above) wrong, in which case please disregard the following. But otherwise…the phrase ‘get a grip’ springs to mind.

  21. Michael R James

    MarkD @9.25am.
    Thanks for that.
    Sheesh, so it really does seems every bit as bad as the critics contend. Actually, worse than I imagined obviously from my earlier naive post. Which brings me to my frequent complaints about media –why on earth do they* make it so obscure or unclear? I saw the tv doco and while it showed that flammable water scene and hinted at pollution, it was as clear as mud. Like any number of important policy issues (global warming, water and rivers, transport etc) a basic understanding of the science or technology is absolutely key to coming to any kind of sensible evidence-based decision.
    Another question for you Mark. Is this the same fracking process used for geothermal energy projects?
    (* because they are all liberal-arts grads of course; sorry Luke).

  22. Bill Parker

    May I suggest that if you want some accurate data on anyone of the chemical components of the “frac” fluids then you can get the MSDS (Material Safety data Sheet) information from a reliable non-commercial source at:

    http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/#MSDS

    or go Google and put “msds” in front of the chemical of your choice noting that some of the list are generic. Also if you are not a chemist this second route is easiest. From there you will have a range of properties including risks and toxicity.

  23. brian monk

    Hi,
    I’m the above named Mr Monk, my issues can be clearly looked at on the document I have linked below.

    http://www.qgc.com.au/_dbase_upl/Jordan-Environmental.pdf

    If anyone is interested in the destruction to this planet and our country this project will do, please take a look. And remember this is only one segment of the development. With that in mind, this is only one companies development. With that in mind 3 more are either approved, or will be approved in the near future. Imagine western, central and northern Queensland when and after these projects. Farmland, I think not, industrial wasteland, mad max stuff.

    The thing that worries me greater is all the same style projects in NSW, Vic, SA, WA, this is insanity. Please look at this link, and let the knockers of this resistance be educated. By the way, this is a QGC document, not mine, this is their facts they are prepared to share with us.

    I’m on page 64, and I freely admit that I have a vested interest. But more than page 64, I am an Australian and I cannot believe a government voted into power could treat Australians with such contempt.

    These fossil fuels will further destroy our planet, instead of forcing the planet to look for alternate energy, we single handedly sustain the fossil fuel industry for more than another 30 years would be my guess. Yes a guess, someone can correct me please.

    Brian Monk
    Surat Basin
    Qld

  24. drew

    Fracking is a serious issue but it is possible to get a bit hung up on it and fail to appreciate the immensity of what is proposed for the Darling Downs in Queensland. Between coal and coal seam gas there will, for the most part, be no more food and fibre producing capacity left. Let me just quote a couple of paragraphs from today’s Courier-Mail describing the physical appearance of just one small part of one of the companies’ many operational areas. (They will all look like this.)

    “QGC has a proposal to build 334 coal seam gas wells in and around the
    bushland property the Monks share with their son and daughter-in-law on
    a huge section of land the company has named Jordan.
    After 2014, the company plans even more development in the area to feed
    the LNG export plant in Gladstone.
    The infrastructure it will build in the 145,000ha Jordan site is massive
    – the first real look at how intensive the coal seam gas industry will
    be in the Surat Basin since the $15 billion project won environmental
    and financial approval recently.
    Each of the 334 wells has a construction footprint of 1ha, half of which
    will be immediately rehabilitated and the remainder progressively
    treated over the 20-year life of the wells.
    “It’s quite frightening,” Mr Monk said. “It’s the devastation of the
    entire region and there’s nothing you can do about it.
    “There will be nowhere that does not have ponds and pipelines and wells
    and powerlines.”
    According to QGC’s environmental authority application, alongside the
    wells will be 80 frac ponds holding water released from underground
    during the process that releases gas. There will be seven huge storage
    dams over 32ha holding about 2000 ML of water, plus a major pond of 2000
    ML. There will be borrow pits from which QGC will dig rock and gravel
    for access roads.
    The application says the QGC’s pits will be two metres deep over
    potentially 94ha and taking 1.86 million cubic metres.
    A workers camp for about 900 people will be built, but the Monks have no
    idea where.
    “There’s nothing you can do to get away from this,” Mr Monk said.
    “I’ve told my son if he has a chance to get away he should take it. No
    sane person would want to raise their children next to a compressor
    station.”

  25. Mark Duffett

    @MRJ, the obvious answer, that I’m too busy, happens to be true, which is why the following is a straight copy and paste:

    Water makes up the lion’s share—98 to 99%—of most hydraulic fracturing fluid mixtures, according to various sources. But once the fluid forces open a crack in the rock, something else in the fluid needs to keep it from collapsing. For that purpose, engineers use ordinary silica, or sand. Sand, with its fine grains, allows natural gas to seep through to the surface while holding the crack open.

    To keep the sand suspended in the fluid, engineers add a variety of substances that increase the fluid’s viscosity; gels such as guar gum or hydroxyethyl cellulose are one option. Isopropyl alcohol, which acts as a surfactant, is also used to increase viscosity.

    This thick fluid has to move smoothly through pipes without clinging to the sides. Polyacrylamide, mineral oil, and even diesel oil add the needed slipperiness.

    Various acids, such as sulfuric, hydrochloric, and citric, help dissolve minerals and protect the pipes from scale formation. The common antifreeze ethylene glycol, as well as dimethylformamide (CH3)2NC(O)H, helps prevent pipe corrosion, and ammonium bisulfite scavenges oxygen from the fluid.

    Engineers must also contend with microbes because some organisms thrive in the warm, watery environment generated during fracturing, producing slimy masses that gum up and corrode pipes. Engineers therefore treat the fracturing fluids with “biocides,” generally toxic compounds that are registered with EPA as antimicrobial pesticides. One commonly used compound, glutaraldehyde, CH2(CH2CHO)2, a medical and dental disinfectant, kills microbes by cross-linking their proteins.

  26. macadamia man

    In case clicking the link above seems a little “risky”, here’s what you’ll find from an organisation that took home a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism (remember that?) this year:

    “Gas Drilling: The Story So Far
    The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination [1] have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used.
    Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing [2], shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas. The Environmental Protection Agency has declared the process to be safe [1], but water contamination has been reported in more than a thousand places where drilling is happening. Gas companies, exempt from federal laws protecting water supplies, may conceal the identities of their chemicals as trade secrets, making it difficult to determine [3] the cause of contamination.
    The EPA is now conducting a deeper study [4] of the drilling, New York state has blocked drilling [5] in New York City’s watershed, and lawmakers are pushing for closer oversight of the industry. The industry — in the form of millions of dollars spent on lobbying, a slew of court cases, and a robust public relations campaign — is pushing back [6].”

  27. macadamia man

    SEE: http://www.propublica.org/series/buried-secrets-gas-drillings-environmental-threat

    “Gasland” is the tip of the iceberg.

    Comparing “invisible” CSG drilling – everywhere and anywhere – with the known, visible and inimical impacts of open cut, traditional and long wall underground coal mining is disingenuous in the extreme, and the CSG advocated got their oar in dead quickly again . . . As with climate change the trolls are trolling hard.

    The CSG issue has been around long enough and the “mining anything anywhere” exponents behind it have penetrated so deeply (sorry) into our legislative, adminstrative and political structures that any public attempt to urge caution or balanced assessment of likely or potential long-term impacts is targetted immediately and professionally by a variety of vested interests.

    The nub of the issue is “do we want future energy to remain based on carbon extraction consumption and distribution or do we want to move on to either nuclear (shudder) or renewable energies?” Answer yes to the first proposition and the risk to our water table, human health, food resources and most other rural industries may seem worth taking (although risk assessment not funded and framed by those advocating for CSG would be nice, and oversight by agencies responsible for ensuring those risks are contained pretty basic).

    If the second, then screwing up the countryside as fast and as widely as possible before the penny drops with the water table can be seen for what it is. Naked and opportunistic exploitation connived at by greed, self-interest and incompetence on the part of the government, media, bureaucracy and mining unions.

  28. John Bennetts

    There has already been a private showing of the film in Singleton, NSW. Quite a bit of adverse publicity has arisen centred around Broke and Bulga because of the very unbalanced power which the oil company has, relative to that of the landowner, whose business may typically be growing of grapes, tourism-related accommodation or primary industry in general. These families appear to feel that their homes, health and businesses are threatened by the powerful interests which have moved into town.

    There has been at least one report of uncontrolled and unlicenced spills of heavily polluted water to land and to a creek. The photos in the Newcastle Herald didn’t look too flash. The explanations offered to the paper by the company were particularly poor – kind of “mind your own business”.

    Speaking as one who has no stake in this game, it certainly isn’t looking pretty at all.

    If anybody from Crikey wishes to contact me I will put them in touch with the anti-gas landowner committee’s Chair or Secretary.

    I repeat: I have no stake in this game. I would like to read in Crikey a follow-up story based on this real life example, and/or perhaps one from Queensland.

  29. Michael R James

    MarkD. Why don’t you do some research and write something. I’m not being facetious. I have had a look at some information and am still very unclear about these chemicals. Some things suggested to me it was really just contamination of the water from the pumping/piping gear (their lubricants etc), rather than additives to the injected water. But cannot get anything clear. LindsayB and his lists do not clarify. As I understand it, very large amounts of water get injected so those chemicals must surely be highly dilute. And what is their function?

  30. dboston@velpro.com.au

    There is a typo above, I missed the word in capitals here:
    “Scaring us with what is happening ELSEWHERE is counterproductive.”

    In hindsight it is good to be scared of what is happening in that part of the USA but it is also very important to know if any of it applies here instead of just assuming it does when there are many ways to get this stuff out of the ground.

  31. dboston@velpro.com.au

    Luke can you tell us which company in Australia is using the same process you describe or planning to do so?

    I strongly doubt there is one.

    I certainly have not heard of it and the companies working with coal seam gas seem to be very happy to tell everyone that will listen which process they are using. I remember one meeting covered by the press recently where farmers on a coal seam gas lease were being informed about what was proposed. I recall there was nothing at all about fracturing the rock at all and instead horizontal holes would be drilled (which was a difficult thing a few years ago apparently). I’m sure you can find a better explanation easily if you contact one of the companies involved.

    It looks very much like you have only watched a movie and have not bothered to attempt to find out what is being done here.

    I suggest getting off the couch and getting onto the phone or internet and actually find out what is happening here or is planned to happen here. Scaring us with what is happening is counterproductive.

    For better or worse coal seam gas is being pushed hard in PR as a low carbon solution simply because a lot of what is burned is methane which is low in carbon. These companies are aiming for green credibility so you will find that they will actually talk to you. If you contact some people that can tell you what is happening then you’ll be able to provide something more useful than a film review with something like IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU tacked onto it.

  32. bellebodybeautiful

    Well, it would be an awesome story if the Coal Seam Methane people actually fracted..and most DON”T.

    It would be an even better story if the Coal Seam Methane people who did frac used chemicals..ha ha, but they don’t…just water.

    Great idea for a media beat up from the ill-informed and un-educated.

    The real problem is that flotsam like Buckmaster doesn’t have the skill sets needed to understand complicated things on the face value. Without any grounding in details or the hard science only the prejudicial filtering and selective objectivity (excuse the oxymoron) kicks in.

    In about a years time, you will look at Gasland the film and realise just how much you were sucked in by selective documentary making, literal fabrication and lies, omissions and straight out story telling.

    And like gormless noobs wander off self-congratulating yourself with “..at least my intentions were good”. The perennial refuge of the damaging self-righteous do-gooder.

    “The road to hell is paved with the best intentions”, was not a phrase coined for fun, it has stood the test of time. Its hard to accept by you that it actually applies to you. (No different than knowing that some peoples existence only existed to be a warning or lesson to others. Who wants to believe it applies to themselves.) So good luck sonny.

  33. Luke Buckmaster

    Catch the film Mark, if you’re interested. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  34. Mark Duffett

    Yes, and I did kind of point out that it was, with all due respect, inadequate…

  35. Luke Buckmaster

    Well I did kind of write the story above…

  36. lindsayb

    A blog in texas (http://www.whosplayin.com/xoops/modules/news/article.php?storyid=927) reports the chemicals (below, listed by frac stage) that are used there, but notes that companies involved are reluctant to disclose their proprietary blends.
    The ones that particularly caught my eye were Dazomet (pesticide, fungicide, aquatic toxin), 2.2-Dibromo-3-Nitrilopropionamide (Biocide),- Formaldehyde (Toxic embalming fluid, disinfectant, fixative), Glutaraldehyde (Toxic embalming fluid, disinfectant, fixative)

    As to the safety of the process, there are numerous reports of significant spillage into the environment and into ground water

    http://www.earthworksaction.org/PR_EPApavillionDrinkingWater.cfm
    http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html
    http://www.propublica.org/article/setting-the-record-straight-on-hydraulic-fracturing-090112

    This is not a process I would like to see occurring in the headwaters of the Murray/Darling river.

    Frac Stage #1
    Hydrochloric Acid
    Propargyl Alcohol
    Methanol
    Acetic Acid
    Acetic Anhydride

    Frac Stage #2
    Methanol
    Boric Oxide
    Petroleum Distallate Blend
    Polysaccharide
    Potassium Carbonate
    Sodium Chloride
    Potassium Hydroxide
    Ethylene Glycol
    Boric Acid
    Sodium Bicarbonate
    Monoethanolamine

    Frac Stage #3
    Hydrotreated light distillate
    Ethoxylated Alcohol
    Glutaraldehyde
    Dazomet
    Sodium Hydroxide
    Methanol
    Diesel (use discontinued)
    2,2-Dibromo-3-Nitrilopropionamide
    Polyethylene Glycol Mixture
    Mesh Sand (Crystalline Silica)

  37. Mark Duffett

    Thanks, Luke, for supplying a little further information along the lines I requested. But “if you’re interested, Google it” seems like a decidedly odd thing for someone with pretensions to be a media practitioner to say. What am I paying you for again?

  38. Luke Buckmaster

    No chemicals at all? (http://www.smh.com.au/business/list-reveals-toxic-chemicals-used-in-coal-seam-mining-20101018-16qt5.html)

    Sydney Morning Herald, October 19:

    “Australia mining companies are using highly toxic chemicals to extract coal seam gas during the controversial process known as ”fracking”, documents obtained by the Herald show.

    A government list of 36 chemicals used in coal seam gas extraction in Australia includes hydrochloric and acetic acid, and napthalene- an ingredient once used in napalm as well as more mundane items such as mothballs – and many other hydrocarbons.”

    But if you’re interested, Google it – there’s plenty of information around.

  39. Rohan

    Second that Mark.

    A bit over 2 years ago I was involved in a planning approval for 6 “pilot” coal bed methane wells in the Hunter Valley.

    Whilst assessing the technical information on the project I got the distinct impression that by almost any environmental measure, coal seam methane extraction (I’ve noticed a few interchangeable terms floating around) was overhelmingly less damaging than open-cut coal mining.

    I don’t recall the “fracking” process involving the use of any chemicals at all – the company was proposing fracturing the coal seam by applying water under high pressure. In any event, before the fraccing was to start, the wells were to be lined with stainless steel casing to ensure no cross-contamination of groundwater aquifers.

    So from what I know to date, the opposition seems massively overblown and misplaced and, compared to the impacts involved with coal mining, a relative non-issue.

    I’m certainly keen to have a very close look at this Gasland doco.

  40. Mark Duffett

    If this is a “debate”, where’s the other side of the story? Surely it’s not that it’s not out there, if talk of a “wad of documents” is anything to go by. Just couldn’t be fracked putting it together?

    But never mind balance, simply mentioning exactly what the “highly toxic chemicals” are would be a good start.

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