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Byron Shire
August 4, 2021

CSG mining contaminates aquifers

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All of the people who think it is okay to give the green light to unconventional gas mining need to go to Tara, Chinchilla, and Wandoan (southwest Queensland) and talk to the farmers, as I have done.

Their heartfelt stories are gut-wrenching to say the least.

I would also like to point out that two years ago the mining lobby was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (3 August 2011) saying that the coal seam gas (CSG) industry conceded that extraction will inevitably contaminate aquifers.

At that time, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association told a fiery public meeting in Sydney that good management could minimise the risks of water contamination, but never eliminate them.

‘Drilling will, to varying degrees, impact on adjoining aquifers,’ said the spokesman, Ross Dunn. ‘The extent of impact and whether the impact can be managed is the question.’

The admissions came before the start of the first public hearing in NSW, held in Narrabri, of a Senate inquiry into the effects of coal seam gas mining.

If industry had no doubt that aquifers would be contaminated way back then, why now has the NSW government given a green light to the industry?

Gwilym Summers, Eltham

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  1. On Radio National Bush Telegraph last Thursday. I think the good Prof provides a good summation of the issues and the challenges.

    ABC “One of Australia’s leading groundwater experts has called for calm over coal seam gas mining, telling Bush Telegraph that while there are potential issues with fracking, they are not certain. He is calling for further research, and believes public attitude to CSG mining is shaped by who owns the resources, as Belinda Tromp writes.
    Professor Craig Simmons, director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, says there’s no reason for landholders to fear an ‘Armageddon scenario’ from coal seam gas mining, known as fracking. He points out that there have been ‘millions of fracking jobs’ in the United States over the last 70 to 80 years.
    ‘It’s really important for us to remember that we aren’t the Robinson Crusoe of coal seam gas production,’ said Professor Simmons.
    ‘Having said that, I think there is still a lot of work that is useful to wrap our heads around… to get a bit of a sense around how these things work more comprehensively.’
    Speaking as director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, Professor Simmons says it’s important to remove the heat from the public debate about CSG, ‘to make sure that the scientific discussion and the technical discussion are really well-informed and not just emotive ones’.
    Professor Simmons is also a member of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, advising the federal government on the impact of coal seam gas and large coal mining projects on water resources.
    He lists a wide range of potential issues with fracking, including groundwater contamination, subsidence, depletion of aquifers, surface-groundwater connectivity, and the impact on waterways, trees and ecosystems.
    However, Professor Simmons emphasises that ‘just because something is possible doesn’t mean that it’s likely or probable’, and there’s a need for more research to collect data for better computer modelling and risk analysis.
    ‘One of the real challenges is… it’s often difficult to see what’s underground. We can’t see it, so there’s an out of sight, out of mind thing,’ said Professor Simmons.
    ‘Groundwater involves drilling through rocks or sands. The actual basic measuring instrument is bore holes and that’s in itself a more expensive exercise.’
    He says while coal seam gas mining has grown with ‘astonishing speed’ in Australia in the last decade and a half, there is a lot to be gleaned from international experience.
    ‘In North America and in particular the United States they call it coal bed methane production. CBM has been certainly going on for a lot longer than it has been in Australia.
    ‘It’s really difficult to uncover the sort of Armageddon scenario that’s arisen.’
    He says one factor shaping public attitudes to CSG in Australia may be who owns mineral wealth.
    ‘There are some fascinating things that are quite different about the Australian experience compared to the United States that are not scientific issues,’ said Professor Simmons.
    ‘The issue of who owns minerals and energy under your property. In Australia it’s the Crown on average that’s dealing with the mineral rights. In the US the Crown does in some cases, but in others, if not many cases, actual farmers own the minerals under their property.
    ‘If we think science is the only thing that will save the day on this we are kidding ourselves.
    ‘There’s many other aspects, public engagement, consultation, looking at public policy, regulation. All of it’s got to be on the table.’ ” ABC


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