Fracking Problems in Australia and Elsewhere

by S. Tom Bond on November 11, 2012


Western Australian gas fields

Fracking problems in Australia

Australians in the rural areas of Queensland (the Northwest “state” in Australia) thought fracking coal seams was a great idea when it was introduced  seven years ago.  Australia has long been a major source of coal for Southwest Asia, and also a producer of liquefied natural gas.  More than 4,500 wells were drilled in barely two years, and work has begun on a 250-mile pipeline from the gas fields to Gladstone Harbor and a massive liquefaction facility there. 
About three years ago local people began to complain about damaging effects of fracking.  Claims that aquifers have been damaged, ground water depleted, and huge amounts of climate warming gas have been released in a three mile area of the Condamine River, which at times appears to be boiling.  Disease outbreaks have occurred in fish and crabs in Gladstone Harbor, which has also experienced dredging and large seasonal floods.  The complainants argue what was formerly a great fishing harbor is now an industrial harbor.
Another irritant for Australians is the lack of information being provided on the environmental and health costs entailed in the race to make Australia the No. 1 LNG exporter in the world by 2020.  It is now fourth. 
Unlike the United States, property owners do not own the rights to minerals, they belong to the government.  Ownership famously goes “posthole deep.” Farmers have seen their water table drop and surface disruption.  They are not being told what is being injected into the coal seams.  There is a “Gas Sheriff” to resolve disputes with landowners, but his son has a huge financial interest the development of natural gas.      
Further complaints include “false accounting that doesn’t take into consideration the costs of environmental cleanup,” and ” tremendous enthusiasm among our politicians to push the industry forward with minimal impediment.”         
The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, already under stress from increased sea temperatures, is threatened further.  UNESCO has asked for assurances that by Feburary that port development would be brought under control and the reef protected or the heritage site would be listed as “endangered.”
Tourism is the next industry after coal in dollar value, and the economic situation is like the rest of the first world countries, dragging.  Campbell Newman, the state premier (think Governor), responded to the world body report with assurances that the environment would be protected, “but we are not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down.”
The reason this story is newsworthy in the U. S. is that it is so similar to the shale fracking  zones here. And guess what?  The statements of politicians, such as Newman, above and the oil and gas executives come off the same page as the ones in the U. S., too. (1)

Speaking at a business lunch in Melbourne yesterday, ExxonMobil Australia president John Dashwood said it was understandable the recent rush to tap oil and gas locked in underground rock formations had caused public concern…  He said technical experts were being left out of a public debate being driven by “novices” who “run agendas on emotional messages, stirring up fears by promoting catastrophes”.  (2)
Pointing to the success of North America, where a predominantly free-market approach has helped unlock vast amounts of unconventional gas reserves that have ensured the continent’s long-term energy security, Mr Tillerson said countries needed to be careful when administering the industry.

“Governing or setting policy or regulations based on the precautionary principle will stifle innovation and investment and bring innovation to a standstill,” he said. “I recognise this is the objective of some, but if government puts development of these new sources of energy at a standstill, they will find their economies walking backwards.”  (3)

Which in translation says:

(Newman) “No way we’re going to do major change.”

(Dashwood)  “Public debate is being driven by facts on the ground, not our delightful-myth spinners.”

(Tillerson)  “Being safe before you act is something physicians do.  If we do it, it will spoil our game.”



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Randal S Mick November 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm

From what I understand in Australia they are drilling coal/methane wells. The problem is it is very shallow, not far from the surface. This means the pollution is right at the level of the water aquifers. The other issue is coal and other close formations have a high level of porosity. Meaning that it will fracture under very little pressure and thus allow contaminents to travel further and far easier. I know the Chinese want this energy source, but it is a play of an area underpopulated where the landowners depend on surface/well water for themselves and livestock. From my understanding, the government is the one that sold the minerals and the landowners didnt have a choice, if thats true then it is even more criminal. This seems like familiar ground for those of us in the land of Marcellus shale.


ruth forsythe November 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm

This is a great article Tom you have done some comphrehesive clear research into the situation I would be honoured if you would read an older article of mine about mining in QLD and please share in any way that is helpful – keep going – Ruth


Brian Monk November 13, 2012 at 3:45 am

Randal you are so right on so many issues, the coal is close to the surface, so close in fact that methane is migrating through 6 separate areas is the Condamine river. This river feeds into our massive Murray/Darling river network that runs from Qld to South Australia, probably 1500 miles or more. The methane is also migrating through the surface of the ground, some areas reporting hundreds of times the expected background levels. Owners of land have no right to refuse access to companies and receive very little per well per year rental, some as low as $250 dollars. Owners over here a resorting to Lock the Gate tactics and will no doubt eventually have to take a case to the Australian High Court. The companies are also pumping water into the river networks but when unable to treat it to safe drinking water standards had the Environmental Authority relaxed so it can be drinkable once mixed into the river. Im sure this corruption is well known to exist over there as well and I guess when you search, you see the same corruption everywhere the industry operates throughout the world. People at some time need to wake up to the destructive peril of this industry and its main proponents who dabble in any evil to make money. Thanks for listening, brian


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