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Testimony of a CSG worker
22nd April 2013 I contacted the Gasfield Community Support group after hearing
Laurence Springborg saying on the radio that no workers in the CSG
industry had become sick, and the air and water tests were good quality.
I started in the industry in 2008, and worked for 3 ½ years on a
mobile drill rig. Initially I was employed by Mitchell drilling who
were taken over by AJ Lucas.
With the exception of one well, at all other
times Mitchell drilling /AJ Lucas were contracted to Santos.
I was employed as the
“offsider” initially, graduating to senior drillers assistant.
One of the tasks was mixing chemicals into the
mud pits to pump down the drill string. There were different
polymers used. They pumped “mud” down the drill string. (Salt water,
KCL and polymer JK261, (a lubricant)).
On an average lease, if they
were not taking losses, you would use an average of 12 tons of KCL
and 15 pallets (720 drums /10,800kg of polymer) to keep the
viscosity up and lubricate the drill bit.
The polymer was mixed in the
pits through a hopper. The polymer had to be sprinkled into the
hopper and it was blowing in the face, in the eyes; we were
constantly breathing it in.
This happened for hours at a
time. We had masks, with a diaphragm sometimes, otherwise paper. The
masks were also used when mixing the cement for the casing if
Halliburton did not come in and we were doing the cement job ourselves.
When drilling down, going through the Permian or Jurassic riverbeds
which were very permeable, sometimes the drilling muds would
disappear. They could take huge losses We took core samples when
Santos told us to.
They took core samples on every
drill hole, usually about 600 metres in depth. 80% of the time they
got pretty good returns- getting most of the returns back up the
drill into the pits.
But 20% of the time, especially
in Fairview, east of Injune, they couldn’t stop the losses.
They could use approximately 20 tons of KCL (semi-trailer loads
full) with water. There was 50,000 litres of water in each of three pits.
On one rig, in a 12 hour shift
we used 27tons of KCL along with 100,000 litres of water and
multiple other chemicals.
The next 12 hour shift would
then come on and this could go on for days doing exactly the same
thing until the losses were stopped.
They would use 9.4 heavy-
saturation point- lots of KCL, JK261, CR650-polymer.
The KCL was to “weigh down” the
gas bubble. When they were taking losses they would use ‘frac seal
fine’, composed of silver paper, coarse saw dust, trying to fill the
hole, to block it.
They tried to stop the loss by
plugging the hole. They would use maybe 10 different chemicals
including bentonite, they would keep pumping down, trying to fill
If the muds were going
disappearing) gases could be coming in; they had to try and block it
off with a different medium, and keep pumping it down the drill
string to seal the hole.
They tried to weigh down the
gas bubble. They were worried about gases coming back in and the
risk of explosion; it was a very dangerous time and happened often
(maybe 20%of the time)
In the Gunnedah basin south of Coonabarrabin, they drilled a hole
and hit the fresh water aquifer, Fresh water was pouring out of the
hole, diluting the salt content. They had to bring trucks in to take
the water away; they put the casing in and tried sealing it off with
cement on the outside of the drill string.
There were problems in the Gunnedah basin because
the aquifers were close to the surface, they had to get through the
aquifers and keep drilling to get to the coal seam. They got a drill
string stuck in one particular hole. They brought in black stuff in
a 1000 litre container, called “pipe free”.
I’m not sure how it worked. I
think they pumped it down the drill string to try to free up the
soil and recover the expensive equipment from the hole. It stunk to
It was very smelly, dangerous:
we were told not to get any on our skin. It happened in a hole in
Fairview; Santos owned the property near Injune. On every fifth hole
or so they got stuck but could get the tool free without major
problems apart from patience and time.
But if the tool sheared off
they fished for the tool or cemented the hole up and moved on a
couple metres, cutting their losses and started drilling again.
(This happened about three times when I was there but there was only
one time they used “pipe free”.) It is a big problem for them and
expensive if they lose tools down the hole.
Weatherfords did the logging. They used radiation sources. I heard
that they had lost tools down the hole, but not at the time I was
At times there were problems with the end plug with gas bubbling
through the cement, they couldn’t stop it. There were bubbles coming
up through the water that was sitting over the cement in the cellar.
I saw it three or four times.
On Fairview, there were lots of drill holes, it was like a
porcupine. Drill holes could be as little as 150 meters apart at
times, at other places kilometres apart. There are now a lot of
production wells there.
I started getting sick, with nose bleeds on a regular basis in 2011.
I had never had a nose bleed in my life before.
My work schedule was– out for
18 days, home for 9 with 2 days travelling out of it. (I am an
organic farmer, totally self-sufficient and solar powered, and I was
trying to set myself-up for older life. I was working out there for
I was cautious about saying
anything- I had lost a job before for speaking out).
I was better when got home on
days off; when I went back out, again there was blood dripping from
my nose. I had nose bleeds in the shower.
We broke up earlier than expected at the end of 2011 because of wet
weather. I was coughing and couldn’t clear my chest. I went to the
doctor in late November/ early December. He listened to my lungs and
sent me for a CXR.
I had a terrible feeling of anxiety and just felt terrible. The
anxiety was there all day from the minute I woke up to when I went
I was sent for a CT scan and
told I had moderate emphysema. I had only smoked for a couple of
years, age 19 and 20, not since. I looked up the internet and seen
Dr Roger Allen near the Wesley.
I did a test lasting 6 hours and had a lung
biopsy. I was told I had inflammation, lung infection, bronchitis.
I wanted compensation, adamant that the cause was
what I had been using at work.
Dr Allen wouldn’t commit to
what was causing it. I had sick benefit for a couple of months- I
was off for a couple of months then they told me I was fit to work.
I wouldn’t go back to mixing chemicals; they told me there was
nothing else for me- got nothing for me. They wiped their hands of
Now I am back on the farm. I am
not coughing as much. I still haven’t 100% capacity in my lungs.
I have cough and phlegm and
loss of lung function. When I was working on the rigs I would have
spasm of my hands. I would grab a set of stilsons to do up a drill
joint, when trying to let go I couldn’t open my hand. I had to use
the other hand to open the knuckles back up.
There was lead based grease, real thick grease, used on the drill
joints, also a zinc based grease called ZN50.
The young fellows I was working
with here getting it all over themselves.
It is carcinogenic. They were
using 20kg buckets in a 10 day period.
The other driller, age 27, had bad skin. It
looked like dermatitis. He had red skin around his eyes and
hairline. It would look better each time he came back from break. We
A lot of people are out of work, with a downturn in the industry.
It was a 24 hour rig, 12 hour shift, 4 on crew,
driller, and senior offsider, 2 junior offsiders.
There was always a crew on break. Apart from the
people you work with you don’t know other people.
There were big camps. We lived in camps or hotel
accommodation, up to 80% of the time in camps. People complained
about the water at times.
The truck just didn’t look
hygienic. The water was next to the septic tank which overflowed
several times. People were getting stomach bugs. – I am unsure if
the drinking water was bore water.
Santos took the drinking water
away a couple of times because of complaints. The water in the mud
pits was recycled to the next lease for drilling.
The drill cuttings went back into the pits. When in the Gunnedah
basin they started lining the pits with big plastic liners. They
didn’t tend to line them in Queensland. There were hundreds of tons
of cuttings. It was a problem. I’m not sure what happened to the
pits, or the plastic or the cuttings.
When we were out there, if there was 4 inches of rain the salt water
in the pits started flowing over.
If they knew the rain was coming, they would try
and pump the mud out and dump it somewhere else like in new pits
Santos planted fodder trees, not Australian natives. I think they
planted them to get rid of coal seam gas water by using it for
irrigation. There were maybe 10,000acres that Santos planted.
That then became a problem. Now
seeds have washed out and are growing on the sides of the road, in
waterways. They have become a pest now.
The industry took off very quickly; it went from a controlled
Australian industry with a few different Australian companies and
rigs, to overnight rigs coming in from Canada, Mexico, everywhere.
Whatever controls they went through in the past seemed to have
disappeared over night.
When I worked in the Gunnedah basin, there was lots of protest by
the locals, and road blocks to go through. There were also open cut
coal mines being licenced to overseas buyers (particularly the
Chinese) who were buying the land up.
The farmers didn’t like it.
Because of the protest our image had to be squeaky clean and there
was a lot more control on the industry than in Queensland.
Problems with farmers were not
such a problem in Western Queensland.
There was an occasional well on
their property, maybe up to 10 wells on big properties. Santos was
building a big airport. I didn’t see any protest by farmers in
Queensland. It was not a problem on big properties. Santos and
Origin own some big properties.
Arcadia Valley, north of Injune is a magic pristine country of big
aboriginal significance. It is a rift valley, with a huge escarpment
and caves. It shouldn’t have been touched, it should be heritage
AJ Lucas had one rig in the Arcadia valley and disturbed sacred
aboriginal sites. There were maybe six holes. There was no more or
no less care than in Fairview. I think it was a shame.
The wastage was immense.
In a 12 hour shift 2000 litres of diesel was used
just for an exploration rig.
(For the production rig to get
the gas out of the ground, the fuel usage would be astronomical.)
In addition to the drilling
there were air conditioners and generators running all the time.
There were 100’s of rigs in the area. There were diesel spills and
Other waste, Industrial bins full of plastic drums were emptied
twice a week; there was a huge amount of food wasted.