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Community urged to open its properties for scientific groundwater research

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Sharlene King
Published
16 May 2013
Landholders on the NSW North Coast are being invited to open their properties to allow Southern Cross University scientists to sample the groundwater in the bores.

The preliminary study will enable the collection of independent baseline groundwater chemistry data for the Northern Rivers region ahead of any potential development of the coal seam gas industry.

The study is jointly funded by NOROC (Northern Rivers Region Organisation of Councils) and SCU, with each contributing $15,000.

“Assessing the potential impacts of CSG exploration into groundwater is a major scientific challenge. Our groundwater methane survey will be specifically designed to assess impacts potentially brought about by CSG mining,” said Associate Professor Isaac Santos from the University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research in the School of Environment, Science and Engineering.

The research will initially cover the broad Richmond River catchment, extending from Byron Bay in the north, Evans Head in the south, and west to Casino and Kyogle.

The study will form part of the thesis of doctoral candidate Miss Marnie Atkins and builds on her Honours research which has been published in the peer reviewed scientific journal Journal of Hydrology. That paper, ‘Carbon dioxide dynamics driven by groundwater discharge in a coastal floodplain creek’, focused on the connectivity between regional aquifers and surface waters.

Miss Atkins said the effects of CSG on groundwater systems were not well understood and were likely to be site specific.

“In order to better monitor and understand the implications of CSG production on aquifer connectivity, baseline research on the chemical composition of groundwater is critical.

“Our region still provides an opportunity for gathering baseline data, given CSG exploration is on hold. Determining baseline groundwater chemistry will enable comparisons of ‘before’ and ‘after’ CSG exploration and production.

“Baseline studies may function as a type of insurance for the community, government, and the industry. If we have good, independent baseline data, it will be much easier to settle on some of the major environmental issues related to the CSG debate," she said.

Professor Santos, Miss Atkin’s supervisor, said little was known about the region’s aquifers.

“Apparently, no basic groundwater data has been collected in the Northern Rivers Region with CSG in mind. The lack of independent scientific data has created unrest in several communities,” he said.

The scientists will focus on methane because CSG is composed mainly of methane. During CSG extraction, fugitive methane emissions may escape into the atmosphere or travel via groundwater pathways into rivers and creeks.

“Methane may provide an early indicator of aquifer disturbance by CSG activities,” said Dr Damien Maher, another of the scientists involved in the project.

“Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 100 times greater than carbon dioxide.”

The study will also enable the scientists to create a library of regional groundwater samples that can be revisited several years into the future for specific chemicals that are not currently considered an issue.

Community members located in the Richmond River catchment who are interested in having their groundwater bore sampled should contact Marnie Atkins on 0434 013 110 or email [email protected]

The information required from landholders is: 1) property address; 2) depth and approximate age of the bore; and 3) whether a pump is available. The survey will be performed over the next six months.

Photo: Marnie Atkins taking river water samples.