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An overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
by Elfian Schieren, 2012

Contents
1. Introduction
2. Energy and coal seam gas development
2.1 Economic viability underpinning coal seam gas development
2.2 Renewable, sustainable energy development
- Solar
- Wind
- Biogas
2.3 Coal seam gas development at a global scale
2.4 Coal seam gas development in Australia
3 Coal seam gas extraction process
- Drilling and dewatering
- Hydraulic Fracturing
- Produced Water
4 Risks to water resources from coal seam gas development
4.4 Ground water use
4.5 Water produced by coal seam gas
4.6 Contamination of Groundwater
5 Other Consequences of coal seam gas development
5.4 Impacts to agricultural production
5.5 Health impacts on humans and animals
5.6 Impacts on greenhouse gas emissions
5.7 Impacts on seismic activity
5.8 Economic impacts
5.9 Cumulative impacts
6 Potential for coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
6.1 Northern Rivers Region
6.2 Using trade-offs and opportunity costs in evaluating CSG development
6.3 Prospects for development in Northern Rivers region
6.4 Energy development in Northern Rivers region
6.5 Northern Rivers community actions and groups in response to CSG development
7 Discussion
8 Conclusion
9 References

PDF file
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An overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales

Integrated Project by Elfian Schieren, 2012

2. Energy and coal seam gas development

2.1 Economic viability underpinning coal seam gas development

Unconventional gas in the form of coal seam gas, shale gas, basin centred gas and tight gas is considered the most viable alternative to coal fired power as it widely considered being the next cheapest energy source to coal (Rutovitz et al, 2011).

New technological advancements such as hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling are now allowing companies to access these resources and boosting the global production of nonconventional gases like coal seam and shale gas (Osborn et al, 2011).

These technological advances and strong international gas prices have unlocked Australia’s coal seam onshore and offshore gas reserves for production and export (Australian Department of Resources Energy and Tourism, 2011).

2.2 Renewable, sustainable energy development

There are many options available for cleaner and renewable energies and Australia is well placed with renewable resources to lead development in this area.

A recent cost assessment of the different energy options in Australia revealed that renewable sources are becoming more competitive with fossil fuel energy production (Australian Bureau of Resources, Energy and Economics, 2012).

There has been a rapid drop in solar photovoltaic technology costs resulting from increased global production of photovoltaic modules (Braga et al, 2008) and production of biogas from landfill is now cheaper than energy from brown coal (Australian Bureau of Resources, Energy and Economics, 2012).

A major limitation for renewable energy as a substitute for coal fired power is the ability for base load power generation either from constraints in available technology or power capacity (Needham, 2008).

Competition for land between different renewable energy systems could limit their prospective as electricity producers (de Vries et al, 2006).

- Solar Power

A major limitation for solar power has always been loss of energy production during cloudy weather inevitably requiring large energy storage for these periods.

Batteries have been the main option and are considered an expensive and inefficient method of energy storage (Zweibel et al., 2007).

New technological advancements have invented compressed air storage where solar is used to pump compressed air into underground caverns, abandoned mines, empty gas reservoirs and aquifers.

This air is then released on demand to turn turbines aided by burning small amounts of natural gas, reducing the normal gas usage by 60%.

This system is being successfully used in Germany (Zweibel et al., 2007) and through integration with gas electricity production, could potentially extend the life of conventional natural gas or biogas reserves during the transition to renewable energy systems.

- Wind Power

Wind power is considered one of the most economically viable options for renewable energy production exhibiting lower energy costs than biomass or solar systems (de Vries et al, 2006).

Research on the energy footprint of two wind farms (onshore and offshore) near Denmark found that, based on a 40% efficiency, the farms paid back their energy requirements within 0.26 to 0.39 of a year, around 2% of the 20 year lifetime of the turbine (Schleisner, 1999).

Germany has rapidly promoted the use of wind power and has developed new technologies such as high-voltage direct current (HVDC) to overcome current limitations in providing an efficient, economical and reliable solution to non-renewable energies (Kirby, 2002).

Using underground cable and improved control capabilities, the HVDC makes it economically feasible to connect small scale, renewable power generation into the main AC grid (Weimers, 1998).

- Biogas

There is considerable research and investment into energy from waste such as biogas production from landfill or manure and bio-hydrogen from domestic food waste and wastewaters (Van Ginkel et al., 2004).

Biogas from landfill, pig and cow manure, sewage and food wastes is now widely used as a transport fuel for cars in Europe, particularly in Italy which has over 650 000 biogas fuelled cars and buses (European Biofuels Technology Platform, 2009).

Biogas production has been driven by increased regulations and taxes on waste disposal, a growing need for renewable fuels, industry initiatives and the need to improve air quality (National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Production, 2006).

Biogas is cheaper to run than petrol and diesel, 55% and 40% respectively but have larger capital costs causing most biogas to be used for electricity production.

The environmental benefits, such as CO2 savings, from biogas usage are considered to be high particularly when combined with the benefit of waste reduction (National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Production, 2006).

Reconfiguration of the current electricity grid is essential to integrate renewable power inputs (Needham, 2008).

A new technology named the Smart Grid using decentralised management stations which allow for a more rapid response to fluctuations in power demand is being trialled in Newcastle, Ku-Ring-Gai, Newington, some Sydney areas including the CBC and the rural town of Scone as part of the National Energy Efficiency Initiative (Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2012).

The Smart Grid system may be more effective in dealing with the varied input from renewable sources, coping with base load limitations and offers money savings through the use of smart meters that alleviate the need for meter reading (Dopita and Williamson, 2010).

Most science places renewable energy sources as intermittent dispersed sources unviable for base load power operations without transmission, storage and power conditioning (Hoffart et al, 2002).

Technological advancements happening in Europe and even Australia suggest that many of these hurdles can be overcome.

Hybrid renewable energy systems are considered to have the potential to improve economic viability and customer acceptance of renewable electricity production (Nema et al., 2009).

Carbon pricing in Australia is helping renewables to become more economically viable but the Australian Federal Government states that, according to the global market, renewable energy is not yet competitive enough with gas prices for large scale investment to be considered (Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2011).

However, the largest recorded growth in energy consumption in 2009-10, in Australia, was in renewable energy which grew by 17.1% in comparison to gas consumption at 4.5% (Schultz and Petchey, 2011).

 


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