February 25th, 2015
- Land access issues
- Health impacts of CSG activities
- Well integrity
- Air quality and emissions from CSG activities
- Property values
- Bubbling river, flaming water
- Frack fluid composition
- Pilliga Forest spill
- Gladstone Harbour
On several occasions the claim is made that land holders have no right to refuse access to their properties. This is simply incorrect, and has been phrased this way to mislead.
The facts are:
- A licence to explore for, or develop underground resources does not give the holder a right to enter the land above the resource.
- A land access agreement must be in place before any work can take place on private property.
- To date, there have been more than 5000 land access agreements signed between farmers and gas companies in Queensland and NSW
Both Queensland and NSW have land access codes or agreed principles of land access.
In Queensland, there is a Land Access Code which is set up to outline the process for landholders and resource companies to negotiate a conduct and compensation agreement for land access.
Across Australia, states grant exploration licences to explore for underground energy and mineral resources. A licence to explore underground resources does not give the licence holder a right to enter the land that overlies that resource. A resource licence holder is required to have an access agreement in place they can lawfully enter the property.
Negotiated land-access agreements are the most common method of acquiring a right of entry. The agreement allows the resource licence holder to access the landholder’s property.
The agreement outlines compensation for any disruption caused by exploration or development activities. Land access agreements are highly individualised to take into account specific landholder requests and involve a series of negotiations.
Land access laws vary across different jurisdictions in Australia, however all frameworks are intended to improve relationships between the agriculture and the resources sector.
Queensland – Land access code
In 2010 the Queensland Government introduced a new Land Access Code, which helped to provide landholders and resource companies’ guidance on matters to be negotiated when a negotiating land access agreements as required under the Petroleum legislation.
Resource companies are obligated to:
- Negotiate in good faith
- Respect the Landholder and their home
- Advise Landholder of proposed activities
- Promptly rectify any damage caused to Landholder’s property
- Abide by Land Access Code
NSW Land Access Agreement
On 28 March 2014 an agreement on land access for Coal Seam Gas (CSG) operations in NSW was signed.
The Agreed Principles of Land Access was signed by gas companies Santos and AGL and landholder representatives NSW Farmers, Cotton Australia and the NSW Irrigators Council.
The agreement includes:
- Landholders are free to express their views on the type of drilling to occur without criticism, pressure, harassment or intimidation
- Landholders can say “yes” or “no” to the conduct of operation on their land
- Gas companies will respect the Landholder’s wishes
- The parties condemn bullying, harassment and intimidation in relation to agreed drilling operations.
How the industry works with landholders
The natural gas industry works closely with landholders from the very beginning.
During the planning process, resource companies identify potential locations for wells, infrastructure and pipelines. Once the company identifies land they wish to access, preliminary discussions kick off with the relevant landholders. Resource companies take the opportunity to explain what they are seeking to do and look at ways to work together to maximise coexistence.
While each State and Territory has different regulations there are some things that all jurisdictions require. Mandatory requirements include:
- Notification in writing to the landholder of wish to explore or develop on their land
- Sufficient information provided to the landholder both at commencement and throughout the project lifecycle to ensure they can understand and consider the level of impact and disruption on their land.
- Negotiation of access and compensation agreements
- Minimum number of days for the landholder to consider the information prior to requesting the development of a draft land access agreement
Allegations about health impacts of gas operations on local residents in Queensland’s Tara estate have been examined in detail by Queensland Health.
Their summary report, which is publicly available, found no clear link between emissions from CSG activities and health complaints from residents, stating:
The available evidence does not support the concern among some residents that excessive exposure to emissions from the CSG activities is the cause of the symptoms they have reported
Darling Downs Health Unit
Queensland Health carried out an analysis of adverse health claims and a health risk assessment
to determine the likelihood of a direct physical link between the symptoms experienced by residents of the Wieambilla Estates to CSG activities
The final report concluded that
Given the nature of the health complaints, there are multiple potential causes and explanations. This investigation by itself is unable to determine whether any of the health effects reported by the community are linked to exposure to Coal Seam Gas.
Reference: Darling Downs Health Unit – Investigation into Health Complaints Related to Coal Seam Gas Activity from Residents residing within the Wieambilla Estates, Tara, Queensland – Final Report January 2013
Independent Medical Review
An independent medical practitioner was also engaged to carry out separate investigations including visiting the area and interviewing residents and carrying out medical examinations where required.
His report was released in February 2013.
Given the apparent level of community concern, I was perhaps surprised that a relatively small number of people elected to come and see me.
In the report Dr Keith Adams states:
I was unable to find any objective evidence of the clinical conditions which were reported
Exposure to coal seam gas has now occurred for many years, first in coal miners and now in the coal seam gas drilling industry without evidence of unique or substantial harm to employees in those industries
I would expect that the circumstances of exposure described to me for the most part would lead to relatively low levels of exposure, given the distance between the homes of affected individuals and wells and the testing results made available to me would support that presumption.
Reference: Dr Keith Adams Medibank Health Solutions – “Health Effects of Coal Seam Gas – Tara, February 2013
Queensland Department of Health Report
A further report was carried out by the Queensland Department of Health considering the previous report by the Darling Downs Health Unit, Dr Adams report and considers environmental monitoring data including that of the Southern Cross University in respect of fugitive emissions.
It concluded that:
Based on the clinical and environmental monitoring data available for this summary risk assessment, a clear link cannot be drawn between the health complaints of some residents in the Tara region and impacts of the local CSG industry on air, water or soil within the community. The available evidence does not support the concern among some residents that excessive exposure to emissions from the CSG activities is the cause of the symptoms they have reported.
Reference: Queensland Department of Health – “Coal Seam Gas in the Tara Region: Summary risk assessment of health complaints and environmental monitoring date – March 2013
In the movie, claims are made about children suffering from nosebleeds. On that issue, Queensland Health says
Potential causes for the reported nose bleeds are multiple and may be more a reflection of the age group than any particular cause.
Queensland Health also found:
- The household environment and other environmental exposures were considered as other potential causes of symptoms. The use of wood heaters or fireplaces for heating homes may be a potential source of irritation (particularly eyes and respiratory).
- The use of unboiled/unfiltered rainwater for daily activities could potentially be a cause of gastrointestinal symptoms experienced as could be the handling of domestic animals.
A detailed discussion of the potential causes of the symptoms experienced by the Tara residents can be found in this document.
The claim is made in the movie that all gas wells eventually fail – a refrain that is used widely, but has little basis in fact.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers found that:
..actual well integrity failures are very rare. Well integrity failure is where all barriers fail and a leak is possible. True well integrity failures are two to three orders of magnitude lower than single barrier failure rates.
So what does that mean?
To understand the statement, you need to understand how a well is designed and engineered.
Gas wells are designed to ensure that the gas stays contained within the wellbore, and that the surrounding subsurface layers, including aquifers, are protected.
As the graphic below shows, layers of steel and cement are used to construct a typical well.
In Australia, there are a number of safeguards and measures that are put in place when drilling and completing a well.
These guidelines are based on world best practice standards developed by the American Petroleum Institute (API), and that have been used extensively by oil and gas producers around the world.
State Governments have set down the technical requirements for the design, construction and operation of wells, along with the procedures that need to be followed when wells are decommissioned, plugged and abandoned.
Read the NSW Government’s Code of Practice, the Queensland Code of Practice, and a fact sheet about Western Australia’s requirements.
So what protects the well?
Put simply, its multiple layers of steel and API certified cement, engineered and constructed to ensure the integrity of the well, and it’s the maintenance program that ensures the well is inspected and monitored regularly.
The issue of well integrity has been studied extensively.
In the United States, the Ground Water Protection Council, a group of state regulators whose mission is “to mutually work toward the protection of the nation’s ground water supplies”, found wells casing failure rates to be minuscule.
Their 2011 study looked at more than 34,000 wells in Ohio from 1983 to 2007 and more than 187,000 wells in Texas between 1993 and 2008.
The study found a well failure rate of 0.03 percent in Ohio and only about 0.01 percent in Texas.
And a 2014 report from Durham University, which examined 25 separate datasets from around the world on well integrity and well failure rates, found variable failure rates – some as low as 1.9% in developed countries.
That’s a long way from the claim of ‘all wells fail eventually’.
The movie makes several claims about air quality and emissions from CSG activities, including statements and assertions about leaking gas wells.
A report from Southern Cross University on emissions in the Queensland Darling Downs regions found:
From our data we cannot conclusively say that the elevated concentrations are due to CSG mining activities as we have no information about the area before the commencement of CSG mining
(I)n the Darling Downs the methane and carbon dioxide can be coming from sources other than CSG such as wetlands, feedlots and vehicles.
The CSIRO has examined the fugitive emissions issue.
In its report to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment on “Field Measurements of Fugitive Emissions from Equipment and Well Casings in Australian Coal Seam Gas Production Facilities”, CSIRO researchers found that of the 43 sites tested:
All were found to have some level of emissions, although in all cases these were very low compared to overall production.
The report concluded:
(Emissions) were very much lower than recent estimates of CH4 emissions from unconventional gas production in the United States.
The report also stated:
No evidence of leakage of methane around the outside of well casings was found at any of the wells sampled.
In addition to these two studies, gas developers are also conducting their own fugitive emissions studies in coal seam gas producing areas.
In the Pilliga, Santos has commenced air studies across the region, collecting background or baseline data on the levels of methane in the atmosphere prior to development, while at Camden, AGL undertook a twelve-week monitoring program to determine emissions levels from their existing coal seam gas project.
The results of that study are instructive – the average methane concentration was 2.1ppm (parts per million). This is in line with methane concentrations measured in urban areas commonly ranging between 1.8ppm and 3.0ppm, and are lower than readings measured inside a house in the local area.
One of the key criticisms levelled at fugitive emissions studies to date is that of a supposed lack of baseline studies against which to measure results from operating gas infrastructure.
The Commonwealth Department of the Environment commissioned engineering consultancy Pitt & Sherry to undertake a literature review on emissions monitoring methodologies for unconventional gasfields.
On baselines, the report says:
Baseline data could potentially still be collected within an active unconventional gas field extraction lease as long as it is collected away from any existing or historical extraction areas; however, monitoring across several areas would be required to understand the spatial variability in natural seepage levels to assess whether baseline data from other areas within a region could be assumed to be representative of background for an area that is already active and for which no local baseline data is available.
Where no baseline measurements have been made, and if it is shown that the spatial variability in natural emission levels is significant so that baseline data from other areas within the region may not be representative, then estimates of the contribution of CSG production activities on seepage fluxes could be calculated based on a nominal baseline level measured at the time of implementing the reporting protocol. (Page 16)
A claim is made in the movie that CSG activities negatively impact property values, with terms like ‘valueless’ used.
The Queensland Valuer General’s latest report on property market movements, found:
Land values have generally continued to increase in the last twelve months within the urban areas of Western Downs Regional Council due to the continued expansion within the Surat Energy Basin and associated energy projects.
Residential land values have continued to increase in Western Downs with the exception of the town of Chinchilla. Chinchilla has seen some stabilisation in property values, with no change occurring in the newer estates but a small reduction in the balance. Multi-unit land values recorded moderate to large increases.
Large increases in value occurred within the town of Miles and small increases within Wandoan and the western side of Dalby. Wandoan median values increased from $195,000 to $215,000 and Miles,$147,000 to $185,000. The continued increases in Wandoan are a result of the resource activities in this locality and the shortage of available residential land.
There were continued large increases in commercial and industrial values within the town of Miles and small increases in the western industrial area of Chinchilla. Wandoan recorded a large reduction in industrial values due to the Xstrata coal mine not proceeding. No changes in value were recorded within these market sectors in Dalby.
Rural residential properties around Miles and Dalby also recorded small increases.
In 2014, the Valuer General of New South Wales commissioned a report examining the sale of properties in areas of NSW where the Coal Seam Gas industry is developing and operating.
What the report found may surprise those who claim CSG hurts land values.
The Valuer General found CSG development had “no impacts” on several recent real estate transactions.
A total of eight property transactions with CSG well activity located on the property were investigated through conventional valuation sales analysis. From the analysis the value of all of these properties did not appear to have been impacted by CSG activity.
Furthermore, areas ranging from 200 metres to 38 kilometres where CSG development is taking place also showed no adverse effects on land values.
A total of 53 comparable sales located at distances from 200 metres to 38 kilometres from CSG activity were analysed. There was no observable difference in the values of the comparable sales based on their distance from the CSG activity.
In addition to established home sales, subdivisions also seem to be immune to the claims that such development depreciates land values. Two separate subdivisions were analyzed in the study and the researched concluded,
The analysis of sale prices of single residential home sites at two subdivisions located in view of or in close proximity to CSG wells indicated no impact.
When the report authors interviewed the sales agents of the subdivisions, both agreed CSG development had no impact on the pricing of the lots.
The selling agents of the subdivisions advised that they did not engage in any discounting of properties because of their proximity to the CSG wells and that they did not consider values were impacted.
While the development of CSG is not having an impact on land values in NSW, it is important to note that public perception may have a bigger impact on land values in CSG areas than the actual development.
Some people dislike the industry and consider that it leads to the industrialisation of an area with the further potential for contamination and health risks. These perceptions can lead to a stigma developing in an area.
This is a favourite of activist groups – claiming that Queensland’s Condamine River was found to be ‘bubbling like a spa bath’ because of gas development and hydraulic fracking.
The fact is, methane naturally occurs in groundwater. There is evidence of natural gas seeps in Queensland dating as far back as 1889, and a Queensland CSG Compliance Unit investigation found from a literature review that so-called ‘gassy bores’ had been reported on the Darling Downs for more than forty years – predating any gas activity.
In Queensland, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines said:
Methane seepage from water bores can and does occur naturally. Drilling records for some water bores drilled many years before CSG extraction started indicate the presence of methane when the bore was drilled.
Methane exists naturally in most groundwater systems in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Methane can enter into water bores that intercept the GAB.
In the United States, the Railroad Commission of Texas (which has responsibility for unconventional gas activities in that state) released a report into claims that gas drilling had contaminated water bore.
The Commission’s finding was clear, and:
[D]etermined that the evidence is insufficient to conclude that Barnet Shale production activities have caused or contributed to methane contamination in the aquifer beneath the neighborhood.
Gas is still naturally occurring in many bores today.
Its presence is particularly common in areas near the Condamine River, where underlying coals that contain natural gas are much closer to the surface than is normally the case.
A Queensland Government report released in early 2013 confirmed that the bubbles in the Condamine River pose no risk to the environment or to human and animal health.
The gas industry supports ongoing research and analysis to monitor any changes or new developments.
One of the recurring themes of the film is a quest to find out what is in the fluid mix that is used in hydraulic fracturing.
This quest seems to be the impetus for many of the stunts that underpin the narrative – but the fact is that the details so keenly sought could have been found a lot more easily.
Fracking fluid contains mostly water and sand (around 99%), as well as small quantities of chemicals that are also found in common household products.
The chemicals used are not hazardous or specific to the oil and gas industry. They have many common uses such as in swimming pools, toothpaste, baked goods, ice cream, food additives, detergents and soap.
The overall concentration of additives within the fracking fluid is very small and heavily diluted in the
A list of chemicals typically used can be viewed on the Queensland Government website at: www.ehp.qld.gov.au/management/non-mining/fraccing-chemicals.
And what of the claim that no-one is told what is in the fluid mix? Again, let’s rely on facts.
Under Queensland legislation, companies are required to provide landholders with a notice of intention of hydraulic fracturing activities and a notice of completion.
The notice of completion requires details such as dates, location, activities undertaken such as equipment used and number of personnel, the names of operator of the drilling project and the contractor who carried out the activity, and the make-up of fluid including the small proportion of chemical components.
The film shows scenes of a black substance in the Pilliga forest in north western New South Wales, which a local land holder and an environmental consultant (who is also a prominent Lock the Gate campaigner, but that was not disclosed) claimed was caused by a spill from a CSG pond.
Like much of the footage in the film, there’s much more to the story than what meets the eye.
In 2011, Santos acquired all of Eastern Star Gas’s operations including the Bibblewindi Water Treatment Plant (BWTP). On inspection of the plant, Santos identified initial concerns with the reverse osmosis (RO) plant and closed the BWTP in December 2011, pending a full review of BWTP and its operations.
In January 2012, Santos located an internal ESG report that indicated that an uncontrolled discharge of produced water had occurred at the BWTP in June 2011. ESG had failed to report this leak to the government. Santos reported the incident in January 2012 to the regulator, the NSW Department of Trade & Investment’s Division of Resources Energy (DRE).
There was visible impact on vegetation near the water treatment plant and in low lying areas where the water had collected that diminished with distance from the pond. It is important that the spill, whilst unacceptable, is kept in context. It impacted approx. 1.5 hectares out of the 500,000ha that make up the Pilliga.
Independent testing found that the impacted material, which was s dark in appearance, did not contain petroleum hydrocarbons, as claimed by anti-CSG campaigners. The dark appearance of the impacted soil was likely attributable to dispersion of natural organic material.
They determined the following from the soil samples:
“…the most distinct soil quality difference within the release area is a concentration of salts, and particularly sodium, in the shallow soil profile. This may have been the major contributing factor to the observed vegetation stress within the release area”
“…the black substance is not consistent with a petroleum hydrocarbon source and are likely attributable to natural organic material including eucalypt trees and grasses.
The soil contained naturally occurring hydrocarbons which did not pose either an ecological or human health risk in their natural state.
A copy of the report detailing Santos’ investigation is publicly available.
Santos also commissioned an independent ecological survey for Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on the BWTP impacted area, which has been provided to the Commonwealth Government. The investigation concluded that no MNES had been impacted.
There’s a section of the film that makes a number of claims about the impact that the gas industry has supposedly had on Gladstone Harbour. Once again, its worth checking the facts.
After significant rainfall in the summer of 2010–2011, Gladstone Harbour experienced some abnormal occurrences associated with fish and health of the marine environment.
In response the Queensland Government investigated, working closely with key interest groups to understand the extent and nature of the issue. The investigation sought to identify any specific causes for the fish and marine environment health issues.
The program included extensive fish, water quality and sediment sampling and testing in and around Gladstone Harbour as well as interviews and testing of human health issues.
Two reports were released following the investigation:
- Analysis of Water Quality in Relation to Fish Health in Gladstone Harbour and Waterways (September 2011 – September 2012)
- Gladstone Harbour Fish Health Investigation 2011–2012
In summary, the investigation found there is no evidence to indicate that dredging or industrial activities in Gladstone Harbour have changed the water and sediment quality sufficiently to cause or contribute to the ongoing fish health issues observed in Gladstone Harbour between September 2011 and September 2012.
Rather it was found that flooding, combined with a significant introduction of fish from Lake Awoonga into Gladstone Harbour and adjacent waterways, stressed the ecosystem.
Further, investigations indicated that fish health in Gladstone Harbour had returned to a more normal situation in 2012.
To read the full report:
- Gladstone Harbour Integrated Aquatic Investigation Program 2012 Report
To read a summary report:
- Gladstone Harbour Integrated Aquatic Investigation Program 2012 Brochure