PhD candidate Marnie Atkins (right) testing groundwater bores near Casino in September 2013 with environmental science (Honours) graduate Ben Stewart. Photo: Southern Cross University
PhD candidate Marnie Atkins (right) testing groundwater bores near Casino in September 2013 with environmental science (Honours) graduate Ben Stewart. Photo: Southern Cross University Sharlene King

CSG baseline research: No evidence of methane leakage

SOUTHERN Cross University scientists have established "no evidence" of methane leaking naturally from coal seams into air or groundwater in the Richmond River catchment, in internationally peer-reviewed research published this week.

The findings are significant because they provide baseline information in a region earmarked for future CSG extraction.

"To assess the impacts of any development on the environment we need to know the conditions prior to that development, we need baseline data," explained SCU PhD candidate Marnie Atkins.

No such baseline research was ever commissioned in Queensland's Darling Downs region - where coal seam gas extraction took place on a massive scale.

Methane has been detected in significant quantities in the air there since, in research also conducted by Southern Cross University. 

But because no baseline testing took place, it remains unknown whether the higher than average methane levels were actually caused by the CSG industry.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Ms Atkins, who led the groundwater component of the research, said her team tested 91 water bores.

"Overall, we found good groundwater quality throughout the catchment," she said.

The study on atmospheric chemistry, led by Dr Douglas Tait, measured atmospheric trace gas concentrations near Casino over 12 months.

Dr Tait focused his research on the Dobies Bight area north-west of Casino where there are inactive exploration wells.

Dr Tait said all the evidence pointed to "natural processes" controlling methane concentrations in the region.

The groundwater and atmospheric findings have appeared separately in two international journals: the atmospheric research in Water Air and Soil Pollution, and the groundwater research in the Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies.

Co-author of both papers Dr Damien Maher said the findings justified further research.

"While these two studies put us in a better position to assess long term impacts, we sampled only existing groundwater bores, and our atmospheric monitoring was limited to one area.

"Ideally, new groundwater monitoring bores should be drilled at strategic locations near CSG wells, and atmospheric monitoring should be undertaken across a range of locations," said Dr Maher.

Professor of Hydrogeology Isaac Santos thanked landholders who allowed SCU researchers onto their properties to sample groundwater bores and install atmospheric monitoring equipment.

"We were amazed at the level of community support for this project," he said.

"Community members whose properties were involved in the study have been sent detailed information on the chemical composition of their groundwater resource.

"Several SCU student volunteers came on board as part of our research team and gained valuable training on how to sample and analyse groundwater and air samples. They will be part of the future workforce as they can now operate cutting-edge instruments that are quickly becoming standard techniques everywhere," Professor Santos said.

The research was funded through a collaborative grant between Southern Cross University and the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC).



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