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Coal Seam Gas


Findings From Colorado Gas Tour

The New South Wales Irrigators Council, Namoi Water and Cotton Australia have released a joint report of findings from a recent tour of gas operations in Colorado in the United States. The tour was designed to investigate if and how irrigation was coexisting with gas operations across that State.

Irrigators Council Chief Executive Officer Andrew Gregson says tour raised a number of new issues, but that the primary benefit was receiving independent reinforcement of a key process that must be undertaken.

"Good baseline data is an absolute requirement. Soil and water testing at a gas site, around the gas site and downstream of it are vital. That comprehensive testing must be carried out before gas operations commence and continue for the life of the operation and well after. If there's change, we need to know about it immediately to stop impacts.

Jon-Maree Baker, Executive Officer with Namoi Water, said the potentially devastating impacts of badly managed gas operations clearly justify extreme caution.

"Produced water - the water that comes out of gas seams - carries with it significant danger for irrigated agriculture and the environment. If CSG is to proceed in New South Wales, we need to recognise the severity of the risk associated with produced water and ensure rigorous testing and management.

Sahil Prasad from Cotton Australia said that whilst impacts from gas operations may be manageable, the impacts of failure would be catastrophic.

"Colorado seems to be managing well in terms of drilling regulations, but we were unconvinced on their disposal techniques for produced water. The impacts of something going wrong will be deep and long lasting. We need to make sure Australia is well protected with a strict management regime."

The key findings from the tour are attached.

Irrigators Tour of Colorado Gas Operations - July 2013

Summary of Findings

 CSG comes with problems

Produced water was something of a concern to me before I went, but certainly cemented itself as one of the key problems in my mind as we looked at what's occurring in Colorado.

Even the good stuff materially changes the chemistry of what's in the rivers. When irrigation extracts that water and adds it to soil to create food and fibre, we're materially changing the composition of that soil.

It was explained to me in California a few years ago that farming is simply applied chemistry. If we're changing the chemistry of the soil by changing the chemistry of the water, we're simply asking for trouble.

 The short term problems are relative

Acceptance of the industry can be bought. The payment can come in many forms - particularly through direct payment to those landholders who own mineral rights, but also indirectly to communities that benefit from localised revenue.

Neither of those are at play in Australia, so purchasing acceptance is going to prove very difficult here.

The problems brought about by the gas industry weren't number one on the list. Urban encroachment on agricultural land and, more particularly, urban demand for water were certainly higher than gas. Again, this is a problem largely not at play in Australia and hence gas in many areas has made its way to the top of the agenda.

 The long term risks are significant

If you get the management of water vis a viz coal seam gas wrong, the impacts can be catastrophic.

Changing the chemical composition of soils through the application of produced water - whether intentional or otherwise - is extremely difficult and expensive to reverse.

Mixing aquifers, damaging aquifers or causing soil subsidence at the surface are issues that are virtually impossible to reverse.

Each comes with a low probability of occurrence in the face of tight regulation, but attention must be paid to ensuring such right regulation. The potential impacts demand that chances not be taken.

 The problems can be managed

We weren't presented with a problem that can't be managed. The collection of comprehensive baseline data is, frankly, a no-brainer. No development should
occur in the absence of that.

Produced water is a major threat and burden.

Discharge to surface water is unconvincing at best, even when the water is of "high quality". We should adopt a "put it back where it came from" approach of requiring deep reinjection wells.

NSW Irrigators Council adopted a strict "no regrets" policy. The experience of Colorado serves to undermine the wisdom of that policy. Whilst the identified risks do not feature of high probability, their impacts would be catastrophic to food and fibre production. In the absence of high degrees of certainty vis a viz protection from those potential impacts, development should not occur.

Any argument that there is a rush to develop gas in NSW is short term in nature. The potential impacts are long term and should therefore be given precedence.

These findings represent the views of tour participants. They are not necessarily the policy positions of any entity associated.

A full report from the tour is available via Amazon and can be downloaded here. This download is in Kindle format. It can be read on Kindle device, via a Kindle app on a tablet device or on a PC.

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