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Viral Video of River Catching on Fire Prompts Call for Ban on Fracking

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Viral Video of River Catching on Fire Prompts Call for Ban on Fracking

By Max Phillips

The Greens New South Wales mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham called on governments today to stop the spread of coal seam gas (CSG) and for the true impact of fugitive emissions to be independently assessed after the video of methane gas burning through the Condamine River in Queensland, Australia went viral with millions of views and global media coverage.

“The methane gas bubbling through the Condamine River could be just a very visible tip of the iceberg when it comes to fugitive emissions and huge quantities of gas that could be venting into the atmosphere because of unconventional gas extraction," said Greens MP Buckingham.

“The Greens want a ban on unconventional gas, but at the very least, government should stop the expansion of unconventional gas until the true extent of fugitive emissions is understood. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so significant fugitive emissions caused by coal seam gas extraction could undo efforts to reduce emissions in Australia.

“Depressurizing the coal seams to allow the gas to flow may well be causing gas to migrate up natural or fracked pathways, or water bores or abandoned wells, to seep out of the ground. Farmers complain of gas in their water bores, while people living near gas fields report health complaints," Buckingham continued.

The phase 2 report of the by CSRIO (funded by GISERA gas industry group), Characterisation of Regional Fluxes of Methane in the Surat Basin, Queensland, found (page V):

  • The peak concentration perturbations in these regions ranged from less than 20 parts per billion (ppb) to almost 20 parts per million (ppm) or more than 10 times background levels.
  • A number of abandoned or "legacy" boreholes were found to be leaking CH4. The leakage rate from some of these boreholes was significant (~100 L min-1).
  • One of the leaking abandoned boreholes located during the project was partially filled with concrete to mitigate gas emissions. While this reduced any safety hazard associated with an open borehole, CH4 continued to be emitted via diffusion through the soil around the concrete plug, although at a considerably reduced rate.

The Queensland Department of Natural Resources Coal Seam Gas Compliance Unit commissioned a study that concludes “free" gas is formed during CSG production, which then migrates from areas of high pressure to low pressure, and that CSG production produces free gas in the Walloon Coal Measures that can migrate approximately 10km "up dip" from the nearest CSG production well.

“The methane gas bubbling through the Condamine River could be just a very visible tip of the iceberg when it comes to fugitive emissions and huge quantities of gas that could be venting into the atmosphere because of unconventional gas extraction," said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

Researchers at Harvard University used satellite retrievals and surface observations of atmospheric methane to suggest that U.S. methane emissions have increased by more than 30 percent over the 2002–2014 period. While the authors said there is too little data to identify specific sources, the increase occurred at the same time as America's shale oil and gas boom.

Research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado in the U.S. has shown leakage of methane in gas fields of between 4 and 9 percent.

The video of Buckingham lighting gas bubbling through the Condamine River has been viewed 4.2 million times on his Facebook page, with many millions more views on other social media pages and global media coverage since last Friday night.

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