Flying blind

Conservation Council calls for baseline monitoring

MONITORING and reporting on unconventional gas operations still needs to be improved in South Australia, according to Tim Kelly, chief executive of the Conservation Council SA.

“It is essential that we have baseline data before we do any more large scale fracturing activity.”

He is not entirely convinced by the government’s assurances that fraccing shale in the Cooper Basin is safe because ithe fraccing is done at depth and hundreds of metres away from aquifers.

“Maybe it is all right, maybe it will cause fissures and gas leaks. We don’t know. We have not seen any really certain scientific evidence to say it cannot happen.”

He points out that the CSIRO has not been able to reach a definitive conclusion on the methane bubbling up in the Condamine River in Queensland “because there was no base line testing (before the fraccing) so it was not possible to say if (the leaks) had always been there.”

The council had long been concerned that the methods used to monitor escapes of methane during exploration and development seemed to be based on out-of date US petroleum guidelines, which were more estimates rather than based on gas meter and flow meter measurements.

“There has been some improvement in the methods as to how the gas is measured from flow-back activities and the like but they only measure near the wells. . . . They need to use spectrometers, infra-red and satellite monitoring to really see what is happening in the region.”

“Then we might see what is the true greenhouse impact of switching to gas.”

“Gas is not clean, it is a fossil fuel which releases greenhouse gases when it is burned and even more greenhouse gas when it isn’t. “

He says it used to be a promoted as a transitional fuel on the road to renewable energy, but that seems to have been lost sight of in the push to develop the state’s unconventional gas.

“We are making decisions to increase the gas industry vastly, not as a transitional fuel but as a base fuel supply and an export fuel.

“That creates the risk that we are just going to abandon climate (targets).”

“The other problem is that we are so far behind in transparency in reporting greenhouse emissions, because there is a national framework. A big company can bundle all its results together and that means that local communities cannot see what is happening because you don’t get reporting at facility or site level.”

The Conservation Council was invited to be part of the Round Table, albeit belatedly. It attended two of the Round Table sessions, and put in a number of submissions.

Kelly says it was “useful exercise” and the outcome was “fairly positive”.

“We now have a better dialogue with DMITRE and the mining and oil industries.”

He thinks the state government is now looking at funding research into monitoring on a regional scale, but the problem it sees greenhouse emissions as a federal, rather than a state responsibility.

“There is an almost complete absence of climate mitigation policy in this state,” he says.

“We say we cannot just defer to the federal government and international agencies.”

Adelaide Independent Reporter 2013