CarbonNet prepares to begin next phase

Alex Ford

THE state government’s CarbonNet carbon storage project held information sessions in Sale and Golden Beach about the next phase of its Bass Strait investigations last Friday.

Geotechnical and geophysical work to analyse the seabed will begin in the summer, at least six kilometres offshore in Commonwealth waters, as part of the state and federal government funded project.

Project director Ian Filby emphasised this phase would have no affect on residents or sea-life.

Results from the testing will be used to select the location for an appraisal well, which will perform more testing toward the end of 2019.

Mr Filby said the proposal for this year’s work would include shallow drilling to analyse core samples, sediment studies, and minor sonar mapping, which is estimated to take about a week.

Vessels would be visible at times from the shore, and all operations would be subject to environmental plans, including wildlife observers.

“We want to give the community the chance to understand what those investigations are, and what are the other aspects of the drilling that will happen later next year, as a sequence of steps that give us more information and confidence in the geology,” Mr Filby said.

“The next activity is the appraisal well, an exploration well to collect cores of rock, and we’re planning on doing that at the end of 2019.

“(The well) will give us a chance to collect cores of rock, and these cores of rock are the layers that store the carbon dioxide, the sandstone that acts like a sponge, and the sealing rock which keeps it in place.”

Scientists were analysing the results of the marine seismic survey which took place earlier this year, he added.

“We’ve been analysing the data from the survey, which is really good data, an enormous amount which will take us time to analyse,” he said.

“We want to collect cores of rock and send them to laboratories and have CO2 exposed to the samples, so we can show the rock is good, we’ll do lots of tests on geochemistry and other physical tests on those samples.

“This is normal exploration activity and science, (the oil and gas industry) will typically go out and drill an appraisal well and collect rock samples — we’ll collect more samples, and we’re looking for different attributes of the rocks.”

The CarbonNet website notes appraisal wells have been drilled in Bass Strait for more than 50 years.

Community engagement remains a priority for the project, and Mr Filby said it was likely a future information session would be held on a weekend, or in Melbourne, to allow more stakeholders and residents to attend.

“We welcome everyone coming forward with their questions and concerns, this gives us a chance to answer those questions,” he said.

“I think it’s really important that they do come forward and ask their questions to us, (because) what we’ve noticed is that people are just asking questions amongst themselves, they’re not necessarily getting advice from us.

“We’re keen to get people to approach us, we can provide the facts and information and then people can make up their own mind, rather than just expressing concerns on social media.”

A spokesperson from the 90 Mile Beach Action Group Against Carbon Storage reiterated the timing of the meetings was “problematic” for many attendees.

The session featured scientists from the CSIRO and CO2CRC, who were able to answer questions. The spokesperson said some answers were not satisfactory.

“A small group of residents asked each of the attending representatives, including Ian Filby from CarbonNet, ‘can you give us a 100 per cent guarantee that if this project goes ahead, it is not going to fail?’, which they couldn’t,” they said.

“Then, ‘if it does fail, what contingencies would you have in place and how are you prepared to protect us and the ecology of the area?’.

“CarbonNet facts sheets state that if the seal potential fails, the wind will disperse CO2 like what normally occurs in volcanically active areas.

“That is not good enough, as the storage site is four to six kilometres from the Golden Beach shoreline,” the action group spokesperson said.

“Residents also questioned how this next stage of CarbonNet assessments can coincide with a separate five-month 3D seismic surveying of the Gippsland Basin looking for new gas fields planned to be as close as 12km from Golden Beach shoreline.

“CarbonNet assessments are occurring around 11km out, and we questioned why government appears to be undermining the carbon sequestration process, or if any new future gas discovery could compromise the integrity of the sealing potential due to increased risks from pressure induced seismic activity,” they said.

“This was met with a “can’t comment on what others do.”

The oil and gas exploration project, by French company CGG, is still awaiting government approval, and is not associated with CarbonNet.

Concerns from the fishing industry are also being discussed, with a panel of experts providing ongoing advice.

The CarbonNet project is linked to a proposal to generate hydrogen for export by processing coal in the Latrobe Valley, with resulting carbon dioxide emissions to be stored under Bass Strait.

Mr Filby said CarbonNet would stay “in step” with the project, and other new industries.

“The work that we did in our feasibility studies identified there were some industries where it’s much more cost effective to do [CCS] — natural gas processing, hydrogen production, and fertiliser production — that’s where the economics of CCS really makes sense, and those are new industries that Gippsland can have,” he said.

“The hydrogen opportunity is something that’s turned much more tangible and real since the Japanese consortia announced their pilot project.

“It’s a great opportunity, still many years away from being realised, but it’s important that we do the work to get the geoscience for carbon storage proven, and also to have industry do their pilot projects to show their technologies are ready to go commercial scale.

“We need to stay in step with what industry’s doing.”