BTEX ban hailed by CSG industry

Social, legal and health issues related to air and water toxic pollution in Australia.

BTEX ban hailed by CSG industry

Postby HVPA_research » Fri Aug 13, 2010 12:57 am

From Gas Today, Wed, 11 August 2010:
BTEX (benzene,toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes ) ban hailed by CSG industry

The coal seam gas (CSG) industry will support moves by the Queensland Government to ban the use of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) in fraccing operations, according to the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA).

PPEA Queensland Director Matthew Paull said the fraccing process is used safely by oil and gas companies around the world to increase the recovery of underground resources.
“Water alone is not the most effective carrier of sand, and some chemicals [other than BTEX] are used in fraccing to create a gel to suspend the sand as it is pumped into the coal seam,” he said. “These chemicals make up less than 1 per cent of the fraccing fluid, and the risk to public health at these levels is negligible.”

Mathew Paull should be congratulated. He is the first spokesman for the CSG industry who admits that chemicals other then water sand and guar gum are used in their fracking operations. However, it is a bit puzzling why Queensland Government needs to prohibit use of the toxic BTEX chemicals in fracking if the CSG industry actually does not use them. Very strange!

Concerns were recently raised by DERM over potentially contaminated water at Cougar Energy’s Kingaroy Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) Power Generation Project in Queensland, when benzene and toluene were found in samples taken from the plant.
Mr Paull said that these concerns had prompted the government to increase safety standards on CSG operations, but that CSG should not be confused with UCG, because the two technologies are “completely different with different environmental outcomes”.

Once again, Mathew Paul is completely right. The UCG process is very different from coal seam gas mining. However, CSG industry cannot claim to be much safer environmentally - they use at least twenty times more of the land area and correspondingly extract and dispose much larger quantities of saline produce water. This is because coal seam gas is a very diluted energy source. The effects of an UCG operation are much more localised and can be compared to an underground coal mine combined with a chemical factory. On the other hand, UCG can provide products much more useful domestically such as feed-stocks for the chemical industry (think about plastics) or liquid transport fuels e.g. synthetic diesel fuel. In contrast to that, Queensland CSG industry talks mainly about exporting liquefied gas overseas for fat profits.

Reports of the cause of the Cougar Energy water contamination are not clear. Where did the contamination by BTEX chemicals came from? Was it from the fracking fluids, or from compounds used for lighting the coal seams or were they the product of coal gasification? It is well known that Queensland Government is very friendly to the CSG industry. It is also un-supportive or even hostile to the budding UCG industry. Cynics might suggest that they might be using the Cougar accident as a smokescreen to divert attention from the similar problems of the CSG industry.

In addition, Queensland Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones has announced that a new team of 11 ‘environmental officers’ will be employed to focus solely on regulation of the expanding CSG industry in the state.

While any increase in staffing in the Departments responsible for supervision of the CSG industry are welcome one can still pose several questions:

Who was doing this work until now? Was the CSG industry left to run under the regime of self-regulation?

What exactly is the work description of these new environmental officers? Are they going to be present and supervise all critical operations such as fracking and cementing of the new wells. Are they going to sign-off and publish all drilling logs?
Is 11 officers enough for whole Queensland? If we assume 11,000 new CSG wells each year ( or something in that order of magnitude) then each would have to inspect at least three new wells every day! Since both fracking and well completion operations take days rather then hours most of the contractors will work unsupervised most of the time. In other other words the CSG industry will run self-regulating as before!

What is clearly needed is some system of a statutory drill logging. Every liter of water put and extracted from each borehole and every drum of identified chemicals should be accounted for in public records. This would be extremely useful in ten to twenty years from now when an Australian Royal Commission tries to find out who destroyed Great Artesian Basin.
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