CSG debate ramps up

COAL seam gas exploration has the potential to pollute aquifers, cause health problems, divide communities and cause property values to plummet, one of the organisers of a coal seam gas meeting in Sale next month has told the Gippsland Times.

The newly-formed Coal Seam Gas Wellington Awareness Group has scheduled a meeting next month to examine issues surrounding coal seam gas exploration planned for the local area, including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Doctors for the Environment spokesperson Rowena Knoesen said she had been involved in the issue in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales, where she had been active in “trying to get the health message out”.

Fracking is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas and other substances for extraction.

The energy from the injection of a highly pressurized fracking fluid creates new channels in the rock, which can increase the extraction rates and recovery of hydrocarbons.

However, Dr Knoesen said the fracking chemicals used had the potential to cause a range of health problems if they entered aquifers.

“These vary enormously from general non-specific rashes to bleeding from the nose and asthma-like illnesses,” she said.

“About 900 chemicals are used for fracking.

“Some things like radiator coolant will be going into our soil and water,” she said.

“We don’t know exactly what substances are being used, what the effects of these chemicals are or what happens when they are combined,” she said.

“When fluid is removed it also mobilises a lot of salts and volatile organic chemicals.

“The concern is the contamination to local water sources, particularly here where we get a lot of water from aquifers.”

Dr Knoesen said in farming animals fracking chemicals had caused stillbirth, were known to be endocrine disrupters, caused leukaemias, respiratory and cardiac failure and foetal abnormalities.

“Another major concern is that it divides communities.”

She said farmers whose properties were rendered worthless after mining companies moved in were prone to depression.

“The psychological impact is enormous,” she said.

“Especially in a tightly-knit community like Sale.”

Dr Knoesen said she was seeking a meeting with council, which has already been addressed by Exxon Mobil and Ignite Energy Resources.

The companies have partnered to evaluate and access the potential to produce natural gas from coal seams onshore in Gippsland.

The council meeting, which was also addressed by a representative of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, was told the licence EL4416 awarded to Ignite 12 years ago covered an area of 3600 square kilometres.

Exploration was proposed over the next 18 months, drilling five to seven core holes to test and assess and the capacity to produce gas.

Council was assured aquifers would be protected and that the exploration phase was an opportunity for Exxon Mobil to demonstrate its capacity to work in partnership with land owners.

The council meeting was also told in the future there may be the need for a processing plant “like Longford”.

Dr Knoesen encouraged people to attend the community meeting on September 3.

“The pertinent information will be presented so they can be well informed to make their decision,” she said.