Unconventional Gas in Victoria
Only 10 years ago the unconventional gas industry was basically nonexistent. In a short period of time we have seen a massive expansion and a toxic combination of billion-dollar profits accompanied by lax government regulation. In areas where there have been intense mining activities, in many parts of the USA as well as in Queensland and NSW, recent campaigns have taken the fight to the companies involved and the governments that have remained idle in the face of this threat.
ABC documentary on Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining in Australia.
What is Fracking?
Fracking, traditionally referred to as hydraulic fracturing, is a practise used to extract gas and oil from deposits that were previously considered too difficult to exploit. In conventional gas reserves, such as those found in the Bass Straight off the Victorian coast, the gas is ‘free flowing’, meaning that only drilling is required to release it from underground. In ‘unconventional’ gas deposits the rocks surrounding the reservoirs have poor permeability and the gas cannot easily be released through a drill hole. Unconventional gas reserves include, Coal Seam Gas (CSG), shale gas and ‘tight gas’ (found in sandstone formations). Until recently, these gas deposits were too costly and difficult to exploit. However, with the development of the fracking technique and the increase in energy demand and prices it has become an extremely profitable industry. Fracking is the process of pumping water, sand and a cocktail of different chemicals, underground at huge pressure in order to fracture open the ground and allow the gas to escape.
Is fracking always necessary?
In shallow CSG deposits the gas can sometimes be extracted by dewatering the coal seam without fracking. This process involves removing massive quantities of contaminated water from the coal seam. The waste-water often contains high levels of salt and other contaminants from the coal seam, including mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other elements in harmful quantities. There is no safe way of disposing of this water.
Fracking uses massive amounts of water. The Federal Government “Water Group” estimates, based on existing permits, that 5400GL of water could be used in fracking each year, almost three times the 1872GL used by all the households in Australia combined.
The technique also creates micro-seismic events (mini earthquakes), which cause the connection of naturally separated geological layers. This process can contaminate ground water with volatile organic compounds, methane, other gases, heavy metals, enormous quantities of salt as well as naturally occurring radioactive material.
When fracking fluid is used only between 20 and 80% of the toxic mixture is recovered to the surface, while the rest remains under ground. It can, and often does, find its way into ground and surface water, endangering the health of local communities and ecosystems that rely on this water. The regulation in Australia does not require companies to list the chemicals they use in fracking fluids. However, experience in the USA, Queensland and NSW shows the use of known carcinogens as well as other chemicals including: ethylene glycol, which affects kidney function, the lungs and heart; the BTEX group (Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl Benzene and Xylene), which affect bone marrow, the blood system and cause leukaemia; and other toxins that affect hormone regulation and the reproductive system.
The companies involved in fracking in both Queensland and NSW have repeatedly denied their responsibility when water downstream from fracking sites has been found to be contaminated with chemicals associated with the practice.
In June last year the Queensland government approved the release of more than 20 million litres of toxic water per day into the Condamine River (which connects to the Murray/Darling system). The water was later tested and found to contain ten times the safe level of boron and cadmium and more than 1000 times the safe level of silver, chlorine and copper. In May this year, footage was released by Lock the Gate of methane bubbling up along a five kilometre stretch of the Condamine river.
‘The Queensland government reported that in only the first six months of 2011 there were forty-five CSG compliance related incidents, including twenty-three spills of CSG water during operations, four uncontrolled discharges of CSG water, three exceedances of discharge limits, three overflows of storage ponds, and other incidents relating to vegetation clearing and BTEX contamination.’ (Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland).
Yet again, the incapacity of companies and governments to protect local communities was shown when testing confirmed the presence of numerous substances at harmful levels in the Pilliga forest, near Narrabri in NSW, including ammonia, lithium, cyanide bromide and boron. These chemicals are dangerous by-products of fracking and were not present in sites tested upstream.
Companies associated with fracking have repeatedly shown that they cannot be trusted when it comes to being honest about what they do and protecting our most precious resource.
Josh Fox does a follow-up documentary to his hit Gasland about the propaganda & misinformation that the hydraulic fracking industry puts out. He refutes the claims by the industry that fracking is clean & safe.
Australia is an important food producer and as the global population increases food security will become vital for our continuing prosperity as a country. There is direct competition between fracking activities and food production. In the Darling Downs in Queensland massive tracts of land have been taken over by fracking infrastructure, displacing farming activities and further restricting our capacity to produce food. In Victoria, the exploration licenses granted cover some of our most productive agricultural land. There is a dangerously high risk that contaminated air and water will directly impinge on our ability to produce healthy, clean food.
The choice between food and fracking should be simple – we can’t eat gas!
The government has claimed that energy produced by gas produced 70 per cent less greenhouse gases per KWH than coal but has refused to have this claim independently assessed with a full life cycle analysis, including methane leakage and the energy inputs required to extract the resource and deal with the associated waste products. Studies by independent groups have demonstrated that due to leakage from gas fields (fugitive methane emissions) the greenhouse footprint of fracked gas is as bad, or even worse than coal.
In addition, stronger regulation regarding the disposal of waste products (including salt and contaminated water) would significantly increase the energy required to extract the gas, diminishing the comparative benefit of a transition to gas.
Even conservative estimates of the annual greenhouse gas emissions produced by existing and approved CSG projects suggest that they are equivalent to emissions from all the cars in Australia combined – that’s around 40 million tonnes.
In any case, the most reliable predictions from peer reviewed climate science show that we need to move rapidly towards a zero emissions economy to ensure a safe climate.
Fracking gas won’t help us address climate change but it will leave a toxic legacy for generations.
What’s happening in Victoria?
Until now Queensland and NSW have borne the brunt of fracking activities (predominately CSG) in Australia. Previously operations in Victoria have been on a very small scale but a massive expansion is imminent. The Minerals Council of Australia declared in a recent inquiry submission that ‘there is enormous potential for Coal Seam Methane (CSG) industry in Victoria’. Melbourne sits between two major gas basins. To the East the gas basin extends right throughout Gippsland and to the West the Otway Basin extends all the way to the South Australian border.
Victoria’s Baillieu Government has effectively given the green light for mining corporations to explore and exploit vast tracks of land throughout the state. Three exploration licenses have been approved where the sole purpose of exploration is Coal Seam Gas fracking (an additional license was approved and later withdrawn), with a further 3 pending approval. There are an additional 26 licenses, either approved or pending approval, where CSG is one of the commodities being surveyed. Collectively, these licenses cover an enormous chunk of the state, affecting hundreds of different communities, vast areas of prime farmland and precious ecosystems.
The companies involved have an appalling track record when it comes to protecting local communities and the land from potentially devastating consequences.
Where are they doing it?
The Otway Basin
Western Victoria: Exploration License (EL)5082 (approximately 94km North-West of Warrnambool -1 130km²)-Leichhardt Resources Pty Ltd, EL5298, EL5297, EL5299 (Bordering SA) (All Pending)- Mercus Resources Pty Ltd, EL5294(Pending) (3km West of Sunbury)-Mantle Mining Corporation Ltd, Coal Bed Methane, Coal (Brown or Black) [Coal to liquids potential; underground coal gasification potential], EL5323,EL5324,EL5325 (All Pending?)(Bacchus Marsh)-Mantle Mining Corporation Ltd
The Gippsland Basin
Wellington Shire: EL4416 (Several Sites, Wellington Shire – 3 700km²)-Ignite Energy Resources Pty Ltd, Greenpower Natural Gas Pty Ltd [underground coal gasification potential], EL5333 (Stradbroke West, Wellington Shire)-Commonwealth Mining Pty Ltd (LakesOil), EL 5334 (South of Rosedale, Wellington Shire) – Commonwealth Mining Pty Ltd (LakesOil), PRL 2- PetroTech Pty Ltd (Lakes Oil)[Details for EL5333, 5334 and PRL2 here], EL4681 (Between Traralgon and Gormondale, Wellington Shire)-Monash Energy Coal Ltd, EL5229 (West of Yarram, Wellington Shire-Pending)-Wassylko, Stanislaw, EL5275(Eastern Strezleckis, Wellington Shire-Pending)-ECI Pty Ltd (exclusively CSG), EL 5394 (Toongabbie and Cowwarr area, Wellington Shire) Commonwealth Mining Pty Ltd (Lakes Oil), CSG [Check here for details], EL4860 (Immediately South of EL5394, Wellington Shire)-Sawells Pty Ltd,
Latrobe Shire: EL5336 (Strezleckis, northern slopes, Latrobe City -Pending)-Mantle Mining Corporation Ltd,
Baw Baw Shire: EL4877 (Six Sites: 1 South of Trafalgar, 2 South of Gormondale)- Sawells Pty Ltd, EL5210 (Several Sites)-Resolve Geo Pty Ltd, EL5320(Drouin to Warragul)-ECI Pty Ltd (exclusively CSG)- [Information available here], EL5337(Thorpdale, almost to Mirboo North, Baw Baw Shire)- Mantle Mining Corporation Ltd, EL5227 (covers Ellinbank to Darnam, and Trafalgar, Baw Baw Shire)-Greenpower Natural Gas Pty Ltd,
Cardinia Shire: EL4500 (Several sites covers Lang Lang area as well as other sites in South and West Gipsland, and Bass Coast Shire)-Greenpower Natural Gas Pty Ltd
Bass Coast Shire: EL5180 (Bass to Kilcunda)–Seamair Pty Ltd, EL5270 (Extends into South Gippsland Shire, including Leogatha and Korumburra)-Clean Global Energy Ltd,
South Gippsland Shire: EL 5416- Leichhardt Resources Pty Ltd [Check here for further information], EL5322 (Pending)-ECI Pty Ltd, EL5081(Fish Creek to Meeniyan)-Leichardt Resources Pty Ltd, EL5170 (Pending)-Latrobe Fuels Ltd, EL5212 (Port Welshpool)-Resolve Geo Pty Ltd, EL5274 (Between Foster and Mirboo North-Pending)-ECI International Pty Ltd (exclusively CSG), EL5276 (U-shaped, covering South of Poowong, North of Korumburra and East of Leongatha)-ECI International Pty Ltd (exclusively CSG), EL5281-Seamiar Pty Ltd, EL5321 (Poowong area – Pending) – ECI International Pty Ltd (exclusively CSG), EL5322 (Pending)- ECI International Pty Ltd (exclusively CSG), EL5338 (Mirboo North-Pending)- Mantle Mining Corporation Ltd,
Central and North-East Vic
Ganawarra Shire: EL5308 (Ganawarra Shire)-Wassylko, Stanislaw, EL5203(Shire of Campaspe)-Oscar Mining Pty Ltd, EL5268(Ganawarra Shire)-BTB Mining Pty Ltd, EL5271(Shire of Campaspe)-Gold of Ophir Pty Ltd
Gas companies around Australia have repeatedly refused to detail precisely the chemicals they use in the fracking process. Despite dozens of confirmed reports of devastating contamination events and malpractice the corporations involved continue to assert that fracking poses a minimal risk to affected communities.
There has been a concerted effort on behalf of these vested interests to “win over” the local population through advertising and donations to local football clubs and other groups in the areas concerned.
These companies have shown again and again that they put profits before healthy communities every time
For more information…