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Air, water and coal seam gas: Current research and future perspectives


Sharlene King
7 November 2012
Methane concentrations present in air and water may be modified in areas mined for coal seam gas, according to new research from scientists at Southern Cross University.

The findings will be presented at a free public lecture in Lismore on Wednesday November 14, starting at 5.30pm.

Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher from the University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research in the School of Environment, Science and Engineering will lead the seminar and provide a progress report of research focusing on how CSG mining can influence air and water chemistry.

The scientists and their research students have spent time in Queensland collecting preliminary data from that state’s large CSG fields to compare it with data from NSW.

“We have performed snapshot surveys of methane concentrations in the atmosphere and creeks near Tara in Southern Queensland and in the Richmond River catchment in Northern NSW,” said Dr Maher.

“The concentrations of methane were much higher in the atmosphere and creek waters around Tara than in Northern NSW.

“Mining in the Tara region is at full speed, while in Northern NSW we are still at the exploration stage. Contrasting the two regions provides insight into how to best manage CSG in the Northern Rivers area.”

Dr Santos said the lecture would report on original scientific results to be published in peer reviewed scientific journals in the coming months.

“The current discussions on CSG are often based on anecdotal evidence, old observations not designed to assess CSG or data obtained overseas.

“We believe universities are independent institutions that should provide hard data to inform this discussion. The lack of site-specific baseline data is staggering," said Dr Santos.

A 2012 Australian Research Council grant to Dr Santos and his colleagues in the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, Professor Bradley Eyre, Dr Symon Dworjanyn, Dr Joanne Oakes and Dr Dirk Erler, enabled Southern Cross University to purchase unique scientific instrumentation not available anywhere else in Australia.

“We are now able to measure the concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane at one second intervals with incredible precision while driving a car or a boat. The instrumentation also measures the stable isotopes of carbon which gives us insight into the source of methane,” said Dr Santos.

He said the lecture would also address some of the major questions emerging from the CSG debate.

“How will our creeks and groundwater be impacted by CSG exploration? How can we monitor the fate of CSG co-produced waters? How to assess the overall impact of CSG exploration on greenhouse gas budgets?”

The lecture is free and open to the community. Complex scientific concepts will be conveyed in a simple and understandable manner.

Dr Santos and Dr Maher will speak for 30 minutes each and take questions after the lecture.

Date: Wednesday, November 14
Time: 5.30pm – 7.30pm
Venue: Whitebrook Theatre, Southern Cross University, Military Road, East Lismore

Dr Isaac Santos is a world leader in groundwater research and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry at SCU. Dr Santos has 50 scientific peer reviewed publications, many of which focus on the hydrology and chemistry of the Richmond River. In 2011 Santos was given an award from the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, the largest global federation of coastal scientists for his research on groundwater.

Dr Damien Maher is an expert in carbon dioxide cycling in the environment. He has published the first scientific papers estimating carbon dioxide fluxes in Australian estuaries. Dr Maher has recently developed a rapid approach to perform high precision methane measurements in air and water.

The research performed by Dr Santos and Dr Maher builds on Southern Cross University’s strengths in the field of geochemistry. In 2010, SCU was given the highest rank of 5 in the Excellence in Research Australia assessment for research “well above world standards”. SCU’s ERA rank in the field of geochemistry is matched by only other two universities in Australia, both of which located in metropolitan areas.

Photo: Dr Isaac Santos taking groundwater samples. Media opportunity: Media are welcome to attend the event. The research findings are embargoed until the lecture. Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher are available for interviews after the lecture.