A three-year CSIRO study examining fracking in Queensland has found little to no impacts on air quality, soils, groundwater, and waterways.
The Australian-first research conducted by CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) analysed air, water and soil samples taken before, during and up to six months after hydraulic fracturing operations at six coal seam gas wells in the Surat Basin in Queensland.
The study also found current water treatment technology used for treating water produced from coal seam gas wells is effective in removing hydraulic fracturing chemicals and naturally occurring (geogenic) chemicals to within relevant water quality guidelines.
GISERA Director Dr Damian Barrett said the research was an Australian first and provided unique insights into the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Australia.
“This new research provides valuable data about hydraulic fracturing in coal seam gas formations in the Surat Basin, Queensland,” Dr Barrett said. “Previously, the only information about hydraulic fracturing was from overseas studies in quite different shale gas formations.”
“Clearly governance, industry regulation and operational integrity are crucial in managing risk and potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing.”
GISERA is a collaboration between CSIRO, Commonwealth and State governments, and industry.
Used to increase the flow of gas and water from gas wells, hydraulic fracturing involves the high-pressure injection of a large volume of fluids and solids, with minor chemical additives, into a well in order to fracture targeted coal seams and open pathways for gas and fluids to flow into the well.
The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) said hydraulic fracturing is a well-established, tightly regulated technology which has been used in more than two million wells worldwide since its inception more than 60 years ago.
But a 2014 Federal Department of Health report examining hydraulic fracturing techniques as well as reporting and governance arrangements said there was substantial concern from the community about hydraulic fracturing because of subsurface contamination and risks to groundwater resources, surface contamination, induced seismicity, and water use.
“Many of the hydraulic fracturing risk assessments completed by industry for coal seam gas extraction projects indicate that operations are unlikely to pose an environmental risk in the event that specified processes and standards are followed,” the report said. “However, there is further research required into the proportion of chemical additives returned in flowback, as well as the likely fate and persistence of fracturing chemicals in coal seams.”
The GISERA study found:
Air quality monitoring found hydraulic fracturing operations had little to no impacts on air quality, with no significant variation between air quality at hydraulic fracturing operational sites and control sites where no hydraulic fracturing activities occurred.
Levels of most atmospheric air pollutants detected were generally below relevant national air quality objectives. Increased levels of airborne particles were associated with dust from vehicle movement.
Hydraulic fracturing chemicals were not detected in water samples taken from nearby groundwater bores, soil samples from sites adjacent to operational wells, or in water samples from a nearby creek.
Water produced from the wells immediately after fracturing contained hydraulic fracturing chemicals, elevated concentrations of major ions (salts), ammonia, organic carbon, some metals and organic compounds, with concentrations reducing to a pre-fractured state within 40 days.
Current water treatment operations are effective in removing hydraulic fracturing chemicals and geogenic chemicals either completely or reducing levels to within acceptable limits according to water quality guidelines.
Some types of biocides used in hydraulic fracturing fluids and some geogenic chemicals were completely degraded in soil samples within two to three days.
Soil microbial activity was reduced by the addition of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water.
In WA, the State Government in September 2019 lifted a 2018 fracking moratorium on petroleum titles but said fracking would not be permitted in more than 98 per cent of the State.
Amendments to regulations lifted the moratorium on existing titles and prohibited fracking within 2km of gazetted public drinking water source areas, in national parks, towns and the Dampier Peninsula.
Fracking remains banned in the South-West, Peel and Perth metropolitan area.
The move followed a State scientific study into fracking.