Cattleman's long view

Australia’s oil and gas industry has been urged to set aside money in perpetuity for possible repairs of gas and oil wells long after the wells have been sealed and abandoned.

“What happens in a hundred years’ time to those wells?”

The question was posed yesterday (Oct 1) by the executive director of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, Luke Bowen.

Bowen told delegates to the Onshore Gas Conference in Adelaide organised by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association this week: “The fundamental, critical concern is water, long term.”

The average cattle station in the Territory had a herd of around 8,000 head of breeding cattle, and every cow needed 40 litres of good water a day.

“We know wells sometimes fail long after the oil company has gone.”

He said that with current technology, companies could extract maybe 70 per cent of the gas that was there.

But it was inevitable that the technology would improve, and sooner or later companies would seek to extract more.

“What happens to the old wells if you come back and start repressurising to get out the last 30 per cent of gas?”

“If there are problems with wells long term, well, let’s be honest about it and put something away for the future to fix them if necessary.”

While land use was not mandated in the Territory, except on Aboriginal land, and the pastoralists did not have the right to refuse entry to gas explorers, he said companies should seek to negotiate voluntary access agreements.

He said that “In some cases, companies give diametrically opposed information about how they go about (drilling).”

And he warned: “Don’t bullshit us”.

Cattlemen were familiar with drilling water bores and the problems that could arise.

On one occasion when a company had been pumping concrete down a casing he had asked how much they would pump in.

He was told they would keep pumping until the concrete came to the top.

And if it didn’t come to the top? The reply: “We just keep pumping.”

That, Bowen told the delegates, was just not acceptable.

Adelaide Independent Reporter 2013