Lock the Gate has hailed the publication of Australia’s first peer-reviewed research into ‘fugitive’ methane emissions from coal-seam gas mining, saying it backs up similar research in the US.
The research was conducted by Dr Damien Maher, Professor Isaac Santos and Dr Douglas Tait from the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research at Southern Cross University’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering.
The scientists first presented the preliminary research findings of their study at a public seminar in Lismore in November 2012. But the research was derided by Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson at the time, who said at the time it lacked peer review status.
That process has now been completed and the paper, titled ‘Mapping methane and carbon dioxide concentrations and δ13C values in the atmosphere of two Australian coal seam gas fields’, has been published in Water, Air and Soil Pollution, an international, interdisciplinary journal on all aspects of pollution.
It follows another peer-reviewed paper, published in the international scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology in April 2013, which found a link between concentrations of radon gas in CSG fields and the number of CSG wells nearby.
The researchers used novel instrumentation to map and ‘chemically fingerprint’ atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide concentrations in and around coal seam gas fields in the Darling Downs and the northern rivers.
Dr Tait said they found consistently elevated methane and carbon dioxide concentrations within the CSG fields of the Darling Downs.
‘This study clearly showed that there is something going on in these areas leading to increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.’
But lack of baseline studies rules out finding the so-called ‘smoking gun’ on the Queensland gasfields.
However, the study’s lead author, Dr Damien Maher said there were some clues as to where the methane and carbon dioxide was coming from.
‘The technology we used gives us additional information about the methane and carbon dioxide,’ Dr Maher said.
‘The methane in the atmosphere of the Darling Downs gasfield has a very similar fingerprint to methane in the CSG of the region.
‘A portion of the carbon dioxide appears to be coming from the expansive water holding ponds, which was something that surprised us,’ Dr Maher said.
Dr Tait said that, ‘While we know that there are some leakages happening in the studied CSG field, we do not know the magnitude of these leakages, nor do we know if this is a consistent trend across all CSG fields in Australia.’
He added, ‘these are areas of research we are actively pursuing.
National coordinator for Lock the Gate, Phil Laird, said the study backed up similar results coming out of the United States and raised new concerns at the impact on human health of living in a gasfield.
‘This study takes a landscape approach to fugitive emissions. It suggests that, not only do wells, pipes and other infrastructure leak, but the ground may also be leaking through cracks and fissures after the coal seams are depressurized and the gas is mobilized.
‘It is devastating for human health and the environment.
‘Fugitive methane emissions are strong indicators of the presence of toxic gasses such as sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds. Gases that likely contributed to health impacts to the residents of Tara, which forced buyouts by QGC back in August 2014.
‘This study shows that people and gasfields should not mix.
‘The data points to a greenhouse gas hotspot centered on the Tara gasfield whose emissions are not correctly accounted for in GHG emissions tallies.
‘The research clearly shows that unconventional gas is far from a “transition fuel” and is in fact a dirty, emissions heavy energy source that neither community health nor the planet can afford.
‘It is reckless in the extreme that both state and federal governments allowed drilling to commence without strong baseline studies in place,’ Mr Laird said.