Study shows higher methane levels in air around CSG wells

RESEARCH by two Southern Cross University scientists has led to the first peer-reviewed paper on atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide concentrations in Australian coal seam gas (CSG) fields.

The paper's authors are Dr Damien Maher and Professor Isaac Santos who first presented the preliminary research findings of their study at a public seminar in Lismore in November 2012.

It generated international media attention and the scientists were attacked by the industry for releasing findings before they had been peer-reviewed.

But now they have been published in the international journal 'Water, Air and Soil Pollution', the SCU scientists said they feel vindicated in releasing their research.

Their research shows elevated levels of methane and carbon dioxide concentrations in and around coal seam gas fields in the Darling Downs and northern New South Wales.

"CSG is often assumed to be a cleaner fuel than coal in terms of greenhouse gas footprint," said Professor Santos.

"However, if methane is being lost to the atmosphere during the extraction, processing and transportation processes, this assumption may not be valid.

"This is due to the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas, which is about 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame."

One of the major issues with attributing the elevated gas concentrations to coal seam gas mining is the lack of baseline studies.

However, the study's lead author, Dr Damien Maher said there were some clues as to where the methane and carbon dioxide was coming from.

"The technology we used gives us additional information about the methane and carbon dioxide," Dr Maher said.

"We also measure the carbon stable isotope ratios of the gases, which is like a chemical fingerprint ... This is a very powerful tool which enables us to model what the source of these gases might be, which is important in areas where there are a number of potential sources.

"The methane in the atmosphere of the Darling Downs gas field has a very similar fingerprint to methane in the CSG of the region. A portion of the carbon dioxide appears to be coming from the expansive water holding ponds, which was something that surprised us."

The researchers agree this is only a first step in determining the greenhouse gas footprint of the CSG industry in Australia

Topics:  coal coal seam gas csg global warming

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