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An overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
by Elfian Schieren, 2012

1. Introduction
2. Energy and coal seam gas development
2.1 Economic viability underpinning coal seam gas development
2.2 Renewable, sustainable energy development
- Solar
- Wind
- Biogas
2.3 Coal seam gas development at a global scale
2.4 Coal seam gas development in Australia
3 Coal seam gas extraction process
- Drilling and dewatering
- Hydraulic Fracturing
- Produced Water
4 Risks to water resources from coal seam gas development
4.4 Ground water use
4.5 Water produced by coal seam gas
4.6 Contamination of Groundwater
5 Other Consequences of coal seam gas development
5.4 Impacts to agricultural production
5.5 Health impacts on humans and animals
5.6 Impacts on greenhouse gas emissions
5.7 Impacts on seismic activity
5.8 Economic impacts
5.9 Cumulative impacts
6 Potential for coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
6.1 Northern Rivers Region
6.2 Using trade-offs and opportunity costs in evaluating CSG development
6.3 Prospects for development in Northern Rivers region
6.4 Energy development in Northern Rivers region
6.5 Northern Rivers community actions and groups in response to CSG development
7 Discussion
8 Conclusion
9 References

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An overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales

Integrated Project by Elfian Schieren, 2012

3 Coal seam gas extraction process

Functionally coal seam gas is the same as natural gas which is methane, formed from the decay of organic matter in anaerobic (low oxygen) environments.

Coal seam gas differs from conventional gas in extraction method and geology.

Conventional gas is generally found in sandstone or limestone in pockets or reservoirs from which the gas flows easily once tapped (Rutovitz et al, 2011). Coal seam gas is found within subterranean coal seams of hard coal such as anthracite to soft lignite or bituminous coals.

Coal seams are less permeable and require more invasive processes to extract the methane (Zupanick, 2001).

The general processes include drilling and dewatering initially and hydraulic fracturing to increase permeability when these processes are not adequate to create gas flow.

- Drilling and dewatering

Gas wells are drilled using a system of enclosed fire retardant fluids to reduce friction and keep the drill from setting the coal seam or other geological layers on fire (Spehe, 1999).

The methane is held tightly in the coal seam in a saturated environment and requires a dewatering process before the gas can be released (Rutovitz et al, 2011).

The coal seam is a highly saturated environment and gas wells often produce water or other liquids such as oil or hydrates.

These liquids have the potential to inhibit gas flow from the well and have to be removed via pumping mechanisms (Evans, 1980).

The water removed from the coal seam is called “produced water” and can contain potentially hazardous compounds such as salts and chemicals so has to be treated and disposed of accordingly (Rutovitz et al, 2011).

- Hydraulic Fracturing

If the dewatering of the coal seam is unable to release the gas it is necessary to fracture the seam to increase permeability.

Hydraulic fracturing or fraccing involves pumping large volumes of fraccing fluid at high pressure into the coal seam to create a fracturing that can extend to around 400m into the coal seam (Puri et al, 1991).

Fraccing fluid is often but not always water and contains proppants and chemicals to increase fracturing capacity.

Gel like fluids are considered more effective at transporting the proppants and gel compounds are added to a water base to thicken it.

Most fraccing fluids contain a mixture of bactericides, pH control and anti-solidifying chemicals (NTN, 2011).

Very small amounts of the chemical are used in the fluids but huge volumes of fluid are required to complete the fracturing process which can result in large amounts of chemicals needing to be disposed of (Rutovitz et al, 2011).

This method is not always desirable particularly when the coal bed is thin or near a submerged aquifer as the fractures can permit transfer of water either into or out of the well bore (Puri et al, 1991).

- Produced Water

The process of dewatering and fraccing brings water to the surface that contains chemical characteristics drilling and fraccing fluids but also of the formation and hydrocarbon being extracted.

This water, known as produced water, contains large amounts of salts, oils and grease, various inorganic and organic compounds or chemical additives and naturally occurring radioactive material.

It is estimated that over 71 billion barrels (1 barrel = 158.76 L) of produced water is generated annually around the globe from oil and gas production which then needs to be treated and disposed of or utilised for other purposes (Veil et al., 2004).

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