The facts
The Facts (about natural gas and fracture stimulation in South Australia)

In keeping with their objective to get the facts into the public arena, a meeting convened by the South Australian Department of State Development (DSD) held on Friday, 25th September was very opportune, as some of the guest speakers at the all day event came from USA, UK, Canada, and South Africa. These visitors were in Australia for a two day meeting of the Australian Academy of Technology, Science and Engineering (ATSE) on Unconventional Gas covering many issues, such as groundwater, climate, economics, community etc.

The Roundtable has been a great DSD initiative to bring all interested parties together (about 200 on this occasion, including some that oppose unconventional gas and hydraulic fracture stimulation <fraccing>) in one forum to hear from leaders in specific research and operational fields such as fraccing, social issues concerning community engagement, groundwater resources etc.

Australian speakers were also well represented with presentations from GeoScience Australia, APPEA and CSIRO, all addressing hot issues such as the impact of oil & gas activity moving closer to townships and the impact it has on local towns and communities. Presenters also referred to case studies covering recent CSG activity on some regional townships in Qld.

Barry Goldstein, Executive Director Energy Resources Division, DSD chaired the event, and gave a summary of the status of 125 recommendations contained in the Dec 2012 Roadmap for Unconventional Gas Projects in SA.

There are too many notable achievements and examples of progress to summarise in this short summary, however suffice to say great progress has been made on many of the recommendations, implemented by Govt and Industry.

One recommendation to bolster understanding (with reliable information) regarding the hazards and risk management of unconventional oil & gas activities featured the Norwood Resource (TNR), where the DSD will support TNR to balance the public discourse on the issue. The Govt already supports the Conservation Council of SA (CCSA) through DEWNR.

Some of the topics/issues discussed related to the risks and assessment of various parts of the fraccing process, such as a 1 in 10 million chance of a leak developing from a fracture stimulation of a deep target to a shallow aquifer – none has actually occurred as yet.

Mark Zoback, from Stanford University reported there has been no substantiated evidence of any groundwater contamination after over 2 million fracture stimulations worldwide.

All speakers touched on the widespread concerns regarding unconventional gas and fraccing due to misinformation despite the enormous amount of credible reputable studies.

Damian Barrett (CSIRO) advised of further funding for research into the social and environmental issues, with around 20 projects already underway, looking at such issues as the uncertainty of communities, what is important to communities and the risk (or likelihood) of something adverse occurring.

Damian referred to ongoing studies of the benefits to local communities, such as employment in non FIFO instances, where the average family income increased by 30% (evidence from CSG regions) and a 30% increase in non mining employment growth.

Studies are being undertaken on such topics as Community Wellbeing and Resilience, which covers issues such as trust, employment and business, decision making and community voice etc.

Further, Ric Wilkinson of APPEA made some notable points during his presentation, such as the fact that SA actually has been a net importer of gas for the last 3.5 years, the recent decline in gas demand on the eastern seaboard, not to mention the current inquiry by ACCC into gas supply and demand and gas contracts for gas supply in the eastern states.

One example of the actual benefits to local communities was Chinchilla, where prior to CSG activities commencing, there was an unemployment rate of around 24%, but this had markedly declined to a current rate of 8.3%. A prime example of a tangible benefit to a community.

A lasting note was the evidence (or lack of evidence) that after 2 to 2.5 million fracc’s worldwide there is zero contamination of groundwater from the fraccing process.

It is a testament to DSD SA that one of the international visitors, Elizabeth Eadie from the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (at times advisors to the US administration on unconventional oil & gas and fraccing issues) said that she intends to replicate the Roundtable concept in the US, although starting with a small number of representatives from various interest groups.

Perhaps this is why the SA Regulator has been independently assessed as being in the top three Regulators worldwide for shale and tight gas, where fraccing is frequently required.

Bruce Holland


The Norwood Resource