This section will attempt to draw together the general CSG
impacts as they relate specifically to Northern Rivers region, NSW and identify
some of the opportunity costs and trade-offs associated with CSG development in
It attempts to provide an overview of the impacts of CSG
development in the Northern Rivers region, NSW, and how this might potentially
be a net benefit or cost.
Impacts such as effects on biodiversity have not been included
in this study but in consideration of the high biodiversity values of Northern
Rivers, NSW it is recommended that further research could be undertaken on this
Firstly it is necessary to acknowledge that the CSG industry
represents a major economic growth for Australia in terms of resource export.
Strong international gas prices and a growing gas market see
CSG as a valuable export for Australia and considered vital to the future of
Australian energy development (Australian Department of Resources, Energy and
However the relatively short life of the industry, around 19 –
27 years (Rutovitz et al, 2011) and multitude of possible impacts, may affect
the net value of the industry when viewed in relation to potential costs to
other longer term resources and industries such as water and agriculture.
For Northern Rivers there is a need for economic growth and
employment opportunities (NSW Department of Planning, 2006) and some believe
that CSG can provide for these needs.
Lack of scientific assessment of the trade-offs between short
term, fly in-fly out employment in CSG developments and employment in other
industries such as tourism and agriculture creates uncertainty as to whether
there is a net employment benefit for the region.
If using the theory of economic efficiency and considering
foreign and external investors against possible tra
de offs (Asafu-adjaye, 2005) there is a possibility that
benefits will be distributed away from the region at a cost to the local
Other substitutes such as biogas may provide employment and
exports at a lesser cost to the community. Biogas appears to be the most viable
liquid fuel alternative to CSG and further assessment of potential biogas
production from waste in Northern Rivers, NSW could provide comparable options.
The Northern Rivers region has a strong community with a
diverse economy that highly values the environment and sustainable development.
Growth in local food production provides valuable input to the
regional gross output and these values are considered to be highly important to
the regional image as a major drawcard for investment and growth (NSW Department
of Planning, 2006).
There is considerable anecdotal evidence from Queensland and
the United States to suggest that trade-offs will occur between these values as
landscapes become industrialized and local economies change possibly displacing
long term residents (Saggers, 2012).
The underlying reasons for these changes, such as rising house
prices (Figure 7) and land surface impact (Figure 4) can be mostly verified by
scientific and statistical evidence although the range of sources is limited and
The potential for loss of local community and food production
values, that are such a major asset to the region, calls for a comprehensive
assessment of CSG impacts on the agricultural and rural community in Northern
While the scientific data for water and public health impacts
is limited there are several similarities between different studies and
anecdotal evidence that enable some tentative assumptions.
The Northern Rivers region has a large population of rural
dwellings and towns and a social and economic dependence on environmental
resources such as clean water, conservation and enhancement of environmental
assets, agriculture and sustainable development (NSW Department of Planning,
It appears scientifically certain that produced water contains
a variety of compounds from drilling and fraccing fluids and mobilization that
vary in their toxicity to humans and the environment (NTN, 2011).
Some of the health risks are quite serious such as long term
damage to various systems in the body and possible sudden death of livestock
(Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).
There is substantial evidence to suggest that CSG developments
create a multitude of opportunities for contamination of the environment to
Anecdotal evidence from Queensland correlates with many of
these symptoms although it is currently not feasible to make direct assumptions
due to lack of scientific data (Larson et al., 2012 and Bamberger and Oswald,
Due to the high density of rural living in Northern Rivers and
the range of disposal issues associated with CSG produced water it seems that
there is high probability for contact between contaminants, humans and
Similarities in scientific and anecdotal evidence on health
issues and the potential severity of health impacts definitely indicate that
further research should be undertaken before CSG development continues.
The scientific confidence of impacts to groundwater seems to
be mostly limited by lack of understanding of the groundwater principles and
lack of research (NSW Parliament, 2012).
However, there are considerable anecdotal and scientific
records that groundwater contamination can occur throughout development and
operation (Asquith and Krygowski, 2004., Wroe, 2012., Arrow Energy, 2012 and
Osborn et al., 2011).
There was some indication that treatment of CSG produced water
could engender significant capital and operating costs (Greenlee et al, 2009)
without dealing with the actual contaminants of concern.
This process needs to be evaluated as a scientific tool to
provide a more accurate estimation of the opportunity cost of CSG development.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that CSG is not always compatible
with agriculture according to the interruptions and costs to farming operations
experienced by farmers in QLD with CSG development on their land (Rowling,
Although there is little or no scientific data and no
Australian studies apparent, the existence of reported incidents and possible
trade-offs between CSG industry and agriculture emphasizes a strong need for
Impacts from CSG related road and well site development also
warrant investigation considering their potential to increase soil erosion
(Woodlots and Wetlands, 2008).
With regard to climate change, while CSG has more potential as an export
(Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2006) therefore allowing other
countries to reduce GHG emissions it may not be the best option for clean energy
production Northern Rivers, NSW.
There is evidence to suggest that the actual reduction in
emissions from CSG compared to existing coal technology is marginal (Howarth et
al. 2012), especially in comparison to renewable energy (Schleisner, 1999).
It seems apparent that Australia has considerable renewable
energy resources and that technological advances overseas are providing
opportunities for these to be integrated effectively for power generation (Schleisner,
1999., Van Ginkel et al., 2004., Weimers, no date. and Zweibel et al., 2007).
Given that Northern Rivers shows such high support for
renewable energy development (NSW Department of Planning, 2006), investment in
this region might be better served in renewable energies such as solar, wind and
When considered in conjunction with other issues such as food
and water security the renewable direction seems more apparent, instead of CSG
which is more likely to have adverse impacts on these other factors.
The potential for biogas to be a viable liquid gas export
(National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Production, 2006) requires
further investigation as it may provide a direct, possibly sustainable
alternative to CSG for the Northern Rivers region, NSW.
Accurately assessing CSG emissions seems to be central in
defining the industry’s value as a transition fuel and adoption of the correct
emissions horizon is a key factor in accurately assessing climate impacts of CSG
along with the correct identification and inclusion of fugitive emissions (Howarth
et al., 2012).
Other impacts such as increased seismic activity warrant
further investigation but priority may not be as great a concern in Northern
Rivers as it may be in areas with higher earthquake potential.
Considering the range, scale and longevity of risks that have
been raised, a proper assessment of cumulative impacts seems predominantly
important before further large scale developments are pursued, particularly in
areas of such high density and environmental value as the Northern Rivers.
The magnitude of scientific uncertainty surrounding the
impacts of CSG combined with the possible severity of these potential risks
highlights the need for precautionary measures.
The NSW government itself admits with regard to water
contamination that the consequences could be “disastrous”.
When words such as this are used they should not be taken
lightly. Furthermore there are sufficient parallels between scientific and
anecdotal evidence that many of these risks are quite likely to be realised and
therefore should not be ignored.
The Northern Rivers is a vital community with many growth
opportunities in a variety of industries and these are true long term values for
the region. Regional scale impacts appear to be a significant problem associated
with CSG development.
Extensive independent scientific research should underpin such
a development to engender community security and improve prediction accuracy and
This study has managed to provide a brief assessment of the
possible impacts associated with CSG development in Northern Rivers, NSW and has
highlighted the imperative need for further research in several areas.
These areas include but do not end with:
Impacts to water resources, paying particular attention to
groundwater removal, groundwater contamination and treatment and disposal of CSG
The potential for and identification of regional social and
economic impacts in the long term to provide a basis for cost-benefit analysis
Impacts to human and animal health with particular regard to
contact with contaminated water and air in CSG development areas
A comprehensive assessment of the net treatment and disposal
costs for CSG produced water based on sound science
Assessment of the emissions reduction value in comparison to
Assessment of the economic viability of renewable energy
development in Northern Rivers, NSW with special attention to biogas as a liquid
A comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impacts from CSG drawing on an
improved, sound scientific base
CSG development may be a more commercially viable option in
areas of Australia where there is less environmental or social capital, thus
reducing the scale of trade-off and opportunity cost impacts that may
consequently increase overall extraction costs.
Furthermore the value of other industries and resources need
to be properly calculated and weighed against CSG development to ensure that the
best possible option and management for the region is being undertaken.
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