Pond at Metgasco’s test well at Dyraaba.
Pond at Metgasco’s test well at Dyraaba.

CSG concerns bubble to surface

Northern Rivers residents continue to be alarmed by the practices involved in coal seam gas exploration, with revelations that a tailing pond (where water used in the test bore is kept until it can be trucked away) is poorly maintained. The pond at Dyraaba has a lining made of builder’s plastic that is ripped in places and overflowed in the January rains.

Reports of a possible third leaking test well, at the same site at Dyraaba, have added to concerns of the Keerrong Gas Squad. Vicki and Ian Gaillard breed Arab horses on their property at Keerrong and Arrow Energy drilled a test bore 3km upstream from where they live.

“My major concern immediately is the quality of the water that I shower in, my horses drink, my children swim in and the penetration and disruption of the local aquifer system,” Ian said. “Keerrong Valley residents wrote to Arrow and asked them about community consultation, touted in their PR literature as being their practice. None had taken place in the local community. The first call back from the company was from a solicitor asking if anyone intended to sue for damage or nuisance – hardly consultation.”

Ian said the test drilling prompted him to find out more about the industry and he quickly discovered Red Sky Energy, Metgasco and Arrow have leases covering the entire Northern Rivers region, which they refer to as ‘company acreage’.

Arrow Energy, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shell and PetroChina focussed purely on coal seam gas, held an information session to try and address residents’ questions.

“They held the info session after the fact. Arrow Energy has a test bore at Lagoon’s Grass Road, 1500-1800m upstream from the Wilsons River Source pumping station,” Ian said. “CSG companies need a lot of water. The first water that is held in the coal seam comes up as ‘produced water’ to be trucked and then stored in large settling ponds, such as those proposed by Metgasco near their power station, 12km west of Casino.

“Queensland Mines technical officer has stated that the longer water resides in a coal seam the more known toxins accumulate in it. There is no available data as to the interconnectivity of aquifers in the Clarence-Moreton basin. How then can Metgasco, as stated in The Northern Star, angle drill to avoid deep aquifers?”

Last weekend Ian and other locals visited the test wells at Dyraaba (the ‘Bowerbird’ test exploration well) and at Sextonville Rd (‘Corella’), perched between three agricultural enterprises, including a disease-free piggery, a stud bull farm, and chicken sheds, raising chickens for Sunnybrand.

At Sextonville Road, they saw flaring, where gas is burnt from a vertical pipe, within 100m of the local creek. A large drilling operation is across the road, within 250m of the piggery.

“We would like to know what volatile chemicals from underground coal seams or introduced by the operation are being burned off,” Ian said. “There are also three big pumps grinding away, pumping something in and something out... As a local resident, I see this as a massive invasion and an experiment without due regard for the consequences,” Ian said. “A draft report from the federal government, as shown on Four Corners, said it would take upwards of 10,000 years for the pressure to return to pre-CSG mining levels once the myriad of wells have sucked the water out.

“A major concern is the fact that mining companies pay nothing for the water they use, whereas farmers like me are required to apply and pay for permits to bore water... It’s been approved simply because CSG mining companies have employed environmental graduates and hydro-geological graduates to satisfy the inadequate paperwork required to apply for CSG mining leases and production licences.”

Ian expressed concerns that state and federal governments seem to have left it to the company to self-monitor and self-regulate in the field.

However The Echo has been in contact with Industry & Investment NSW (I&I), which is responsible for monitoring the compliance of gas exploration across the state.

“I&I has strong rules in place for the way in which the petroleum exploration licences are granted. We have petroleum inspectors who routinely inspect the active sites, and they go to the active sites to have a look at how the operations are being conducted when they’re down to the target seam level, and then when the wells are plugged and abandoned. They then inspect the site to see that they’ve been plugged and abandoned to the standards required by the department,” a spokesperson said.

The Keerrong Gas Group is in contact with a rapidly growing number of individuals and groups all over the Clarence-Moreton basin, who are concerned about CSG mining.

“New technology is available for mapping and showing the interconnectivity of aquifers. So far none of these mining

companies have made available to the public evidence that they know where these aquifers are,” Ian said. “We are left with assurances and, as Arrow Shell PetroChina showed around the Tara area, in Southern Queensland, information that is known by the company as to the extent of their plans is dribbled out to land holders over a number of years. That is plain deceit.

“Glenda McLoughlin, Chief Financial Officer of Metgasco, said on ABC Radio recently that Metgasco had invested $70millon in their operation to date, they have created jobs, but in this case we cannot and must not be seduced by the promise of jobs and wealth at the expense of our water and our air.

“The corporate dictum of not releasing facts about the geological strata and future plans under the guise of commercial in confidence leaves the public at large wondering where we stand.

“In time to come it will be shown that these companies are colluding as evidenced by plans to build an export pipeline through the Lions Rd corridor to southern Queensland and the network of other export pipelines. Will Arrow Shell PetroChina build their own pipeline or pay for use of the proposed Metgasco pipeline?”

Metgasco is holding an information meeting on March 14 at Casino RSM.

“I urge as many Northern Rivers residents as possible to attend and question vigorously the company spokesmen. I challenge Metgasco to allow us to show footage of some of their shoddy operations on old Dyraaba Road,” Ian said.

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