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May 8, 2021

Meet the methane monitors

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Coal-seam gas mining may alter methane concentrations present in air and water, according to new research from two scientists at Southern Cross University.

The findings will be presented at a free public lecture and seminar at SCU’s Lismore campus tomorrow at 5.30pm.

Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher from the University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research in the School of Environment, Science and Engineering will lead the seminar and provide a progress report of research focusing on how CSG mining can influence air and water chemistry.

The scientists and their research students have spent time in Queensland collecting preliminary data from that state’s large CSG fields to compare with data from NSW.

‘We have performed snapshot surveys of methane concentrations in the atmosphere and creeks near Tara in southern Queensland and in the Richmond River catchment in northern NSW,’ said Dr Maher.

‘The concentrations of methane were much higher in the atmosphere and creek waters around Tara than in northern NSW.

‘Mining in the Tara region is at full speed, while in northern NSW we are still at the exploration stage. Contrasting the two regions provides insight into how to best manage CSG in the northern rivers area.’

Dr Santos said the lecture would report on original scientific results to be published in peer reviewed scientific journals in the coming months.

‘The current discussions on CSG are often based on anecdotal evidence, old observations not designed to assess CSG, or data obtained overseas.

‘We believe universities are independent institutions that should provide hard data to inform this discussion. The lack of site-specific baseline data is staggering,’ said Dr Santos.

He added that with new equipment ‘we are now able to measure the concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane at one-second intervals with incredible precision while driving a car or a boat. The instrumentation also measures the stable isotopes of carbon, which gives us insight into the source of methane,’ said Dr Santos.

He said the lecture would also address some of the major questions emerging from the CSG debate.

‘How will our creeks and groundwater be impacted on by CSG exploration? How can we monitor the fate of CSG co-produced waters? How to assess the overall impact of CSG exploration on greenhouse gas budgets?’

The lecture is free and open to the community. Complex scientific concepts will be conveyed in a simple and understandable manner.

Dr Santos and Dr Maher will speak for 30 minutes each and take questions after the lecture.

Date: Wednesday, November 14
Time: 5.30–7.30pm
Venue: Whitebrook Theatre, Southern Cross University, Military Road, East Lismore

image: Dr Isaac Santos taking groundwater samples.

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