PERTH (miningweekly.com) – A three-year scientific study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) into the air, water and soil impacts of hydraulic fracturing has found little to no impacts on air quality, soils, groundwater and waterways.
The study also found current water treatment technology used for treating water produced from coal seam gas (CSG) wells is effective in removing hydraulic fracturing chemicals and naturally occurring (geogenic) chemicals to within relevant water quality guidelines.
CSIRO Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) director Dr Damian Barrett said that the research was an Australian first and provided unique insights into the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Australia.
“This new research provides valuable data about hydraulic fracturing in coal seam gas formations in the Surat basin, Queensland,” Barrett said.
“Previously, the only information about hydraulic fracturing was from overseas studies in quite different shale gas formations. Clearly governance, industry regulation and operational integrity are crucial in managing risk and potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing.”
The study showed that air quality monitoring found hydraulic fracturing operations had little to no impact on air quality, with no significant variation between air quality at hydraulic fracturing operational sites and control sites where no hydraulic fracturing activities occurred. Furthermore, the levels of most atmospheric air pollutants detected were generally below relevant national air quality objectives, with increased levels of airborne particles associated with dust from vehicle movement.
The study also showed that hydraulic fracturing chemicals were not detected in water samples taken from nearby groundwater bores, soil samples from sites adjacent to operational wells, or in water samples from a nearby creek.
Water produced from the wells immediately after fracturing contained hydraulic fracturing chemicals, elevated concentrations of major ions (salts), ammonia, organic carbon, some metals and organic compounds, however, these concentrations reduced to a pre-fractured state within 40 days.
Furthermore, current water treatment operations are also effective in removing hydraulic fracturing chemicals and geogenic chemicals either completely or reducing levels to within acceptable limits according to water quality guidelines.
The GISERA study also found that some types of biocides used in hydraulic fracturing fluids and some geogenic chemicals were completely degraded in soil samples within two to three days.
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the new report should pave the way for further investment in gas exploration and development across Australia.
“The study brought together researchers from the CSIRO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Queensland and Macquarie University and it confirms that CSG fracking is a safe practice,” Pitt said.
“It dispels the misinformation anti-gas activists have been spreading about the CSG industry, which is poised to deliver thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in new revenue.
“Reports like the one released today confirm the steps taken by the industry to protect the local environment are working and I am hopeful will attract more resources companies to consider investing in CSG and other unconventional gas developments,” Pitt said.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea) has welcomed the report, with CEO Andrew McConville saying that it backed up over a dozen independent scientific inquiries that have confirmed that properly regulated, hydraulic fracturing is a safe practice.
“Hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in Australia for more than 60 years, and is part and parcel of the safe, sustainable development of our abundant natural gas resources,” McConville said.
“While there are some in the community who continue to make false and exaggerated claims about the environmental impacts of gas exploration and production, all the credible evidence confirms properly-conducted gas activities have negligible impacts.”