CSIRO through the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) is undertaking a comprehensive study of methane seeps in the Surat basin.

Our scientists are taking to the sky above the Surat basin in south-west Queensland to answer a big question – is coal seam gas (CSG) green?

Not literally green, of course: CSG is invisible to the naked eye. What we’re actually looking to determine is the CSG industry’s greenhouse gas footprint. The industry is set to increase production in Australia in coming years, so it’s important to be able to adequately monitor current and future CSG developments and provide information that will help limit any potential environmental impact.

Taking CSG measurements.
Measuring methane seeps.

A four wheel drive-mounted methane detector, with onlookers.

One way to determine the CSG industry’s greenhouse gas footprint is by measuring methane seeps. Methane seeps occur naturally from underground, as well as in soils, swamps and rivers. Another key component is measuring fugitive methane – methane that leaks from CSG well heads, pipes and other infrastructure.  Initial findings show that fugitive methane emissions are lower in Australia than the US.

In south-west Queensland, the Surat basin is where CSG activities are in full swing, with its network of production wells, pipelines, access tracks and warning signs. With CSG development in the basin increasing over the next few years, we are trying to establish the amount – and source – of methane emissions now,  so that in the future we can determine what is attributable to natural sources, and what is attributable to CSG activity.

To do this, our scientist are using airborne sensors aboard helicopters to measure natural methane emissions. With this data in hand, they then calibrate and validate it with land-based sensors to identify how much methane naturally occurs from the ground.

Findings from this research will provide a methane emissions data set that can be used to compare against changes in methane emission as CSG production increases; and will add to the bigger picture of assessing the industry’s whole-of-life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint.

For more information, visit GISERA or our website.

14 comments

  1. Confirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater

    After California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells last July over concerns that the wastewater might have contaminated aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days.

    http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/10/07/central-california-aquifers-contaminated-billions-gallons-fracking-wastewater

  2. NASA Confirms 2,500-Sq-Mile Cloud Of Methane Floating Over US Southwest

    A report published by the NASA researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters concludes that β€œthe source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing.” Indeed, the hot spot happens to be above New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America.

    http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/10/17/nasa-confirms-2500-square-mile-cloud-methane-floating-over-american-southwest

  3. It’s stunning to see the coal seam gas industry funded Gisera redefine the word “baseline”.

    Baseline used to mean “a minimum or starting point used for comparisons” but now GISERA is establishing the baseline after the industry is in “full swing”.

    I genuinely appreciate that the CSIRO has had funding cuts and now must rely on the coal seam gas industry for dollars … but PLEASE be aware that farmers, rural residents and indeed all Australians need truly independent baseline data if there are legal actions resulting from spills or contamination.

    There are hundreds of such legal actions in the USA, so expect them here too!

    What you’ve done here is akin to establishing the ‘baseline’ data for a smoker or asbestos worker after they’ve been exposed for years.

    C’mon CSIRO … don’t be part of the gas industry spin and change the “facts”. Australian people are relying on you to get this right!

    1. Hi Mark

      Thanks for your comment. You are entirely correct: ‘baseline’ was the wrong word to use in this instance, and the blog has been amended accordingly.

      Cheers

      Nick

    2. There is a bit of data out there already:

      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es304538g

  4. It’s a bit late to be establishing the baseline now that the industry is in full-swing

    “In south-west Queensland, the Surat basin is where CSG activities are in full swing, with its network of production wells, pipelines, access tracks and warning signs. With CSG development in the basin increasing over the next few years, we are trying to establish the amount – and source – of methane emissions now, so that we can set a baseline for future monitoring.”

    1. Yes, it’s an old fashioned, highly damaging process that has no place If we have any chance of mitigating the affects of climate change. Australia are rapidly becoming a liability to the planet. Snouts in the trough prevail there. Stupid greedy men!

  5. Always think ‘taking a measured approach’ means business as usual for as long as possible.

    1. I may be misunderstanding a few things here. I hope to be reassured that CSI RO is a truly independent org? And is the process used for extraction – fracking? As you know, fracking is devastating vast areas in USA and now found to be contaminating groundwater.

      1. One thing to understand is that “fracking” and “CSG” mean very different but related things. Hydrofracture is the process of using pressurised liquids and sand to break open the seam in order to increase water and gas drainage. CSG is gas trapped in coal seams. Analogy with the states is misleading because when you refer to the states you’re talking about shale gas. Shale is impermeable to gas drainage and must be frac’d to obtain the gas. Coal seams are usually permeable and are frac’d in about 8% of wells in Queensland. Queensland also has much stricter laws regarding what goes into the frac fluid.

        That is not to say that you shouldn’t watch the industry like a hawk, but it is critical to understand what is going on in order to assess it correctly. CSIRO is the Australian government public science body. They are not tied to the CSG industry.

        1. CSIRO – thanks for reply. How is CSG and fracked gas collected? Which process allows the escape of methane to atmosphere? Which process takes more land and is more of a blight on the landscape?

      2. Your last sentence requires some clarification

        CSIRO/GISERA … “are not tied to the CSG industry.”

        Gisera, who are conducting these aerial surveys, is funded by Australia Pacific LNG Pty Ltd and QGC

        Just sayin’

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