Findings From Colorado Gas Tour
New South Wales Irrigators Council, Namoi Water and
Cotton Australia have released a joint
report of findings from a recent tour of gas operations in Colorado
in the United States. The tour was designed to investigate if and
how irrigation was coexisting with gas operations across that State.
Irrigators Council Chief
Executive Officer Andrew Gregson says tour raised a number of new
issues, but that the primary benefit was receiving independent
reinforcement of a key process that must be undertaken.
"Good baseline data is an
absolute requirement. Soil and water testing at a gas site, around
the gas site and downstream of it are vital. That comprehensive
testing must be carried out before gas operations commence and
continue for the life of the operation and well after. If there's
change, we need to know about it immediately to stop impacts.
Jon-Maree Baker, Executive
Officer with Namoi Water, said the potentially devastating impacts
of badly managed gas operations clearly justify extreme caution.
"Produced water - the water that
comes out of gas seams - carries with it significant danger for
irrigated agriculture and the environment. If CSG is to proceed in
New South Wales, we need to recognise the severity of the risk
associated with produced water and ensure rigorous testing and
Sahil Prasad from Cotton
Australia said that whilst impacts from gas operations may be
manageable, the impacts of failure would be catastrophic.
"Colorado seems to be managing
well in terms of drilling regulations, but we were unconvinced on
their disposal techniques for produced water. The impacts of
something going wrong will be deep and long lasting. We need to make
sure Australia is well protected with a strict management regime."
The key findings from the tour
Irrigators Tour of Colorado
Gas Operations - July 2013
Summary of Findings
CSG comes with problems
Produced water was something of a
concern to me before I went, but certainly cemented itself as one of
the key problems in my mind as we looked at what's occurring in
Even the good stuff materially
changes the chemistry of what's in the rivers. When irrigation
extracts that water and adds it to soil to create food and fibre,
we're materially changing the composition of that soil.
It was explained to me in
California a few years ago that farming is simply applied chemistry.
If we're changing the chemistry of the soil by changing the
chemistry of the water, we're simply asking for trouble.
The short term problems
Acceptance of the industry can be
bought. The payment can come in many forms - particularly through
direct payment to those landholders who own mineral rights, but also
indirectly to communities that benefit from localised revenue.
Neither of those are at play in
Australia, so purchasing acceptance is going to prove very difficult
The problems brought about by the
gas industry weren't number one on the list. Urban encroachment on
agricultural land and, more particularly, urban demand for water
were certainly higher than gas. Again, this is a problem largely not
at play in Australia and hence gas in many areas has made its way to
the top of the agenda.
The long term risks are
If you get the management of
water vis a viz coal seam gas wrong, the impacts can be
Changing the chemical composition
of soils through the application of produced water - whether
intentional or otherwise - is extremely difficult and expensive to
Mixing aquifers, damaging
aquifers or causing soil subsidence at the surface are issues that
are virtually impossible to reverse.
Each comes with a low probability
of occurrence in the face of tight regulation, but attention must be
paid to ensuring such right regulation. The potential impacts demand
that chances not be taken.
The problems can be
We weren't presented with a
problem that can't be managed. The collection of comprehensive
baseline data is, frankly, a no-brainer. No development should
occur in the absence of that.
Produced water is a major threat
Discharge to surface water is
unconvincing at best, even when the water is of "high quality". We
should adopt a "put it back where it came from" approach of
requiring deep reinjection wells.
NSW Irrigators Council adopted a strict "no
regrets" policy. The experience of Colorado serves to undermine the
wisdom of that policy. Whilst the identified risks do not feature of
high probability, their impacts would be catastrophic to food and
fibre production. In the absence of high degrees of certainty vis a
viz protection from those potential impacts, development should not
Any argument that there is a rush to develop
gas in NSW is short term in nature. The potential impacts are long
term and should therefore be given precedence.
These findings represent the views of tour participants. They are
not necessarily the policy positions of any entity associated.
A full report from the tour is available via Amazon and can be
downloaded here. This download is in Kindle format. It can be
read on Kindle device, via a Kindle app on a tablet device or on a
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