Measuring the Impacts: the Chinchilla Meeting – Draft Underground Water Impact Report

The meeting was convened to discuss the third (draft) Underground Water Impact Report (UWIR) since 2012 and was part of a broader group of meetings held across the region. (Submissions to this draft are due and close on 1 July 2019.)

The information and analysis of the data available regarding our underground water and the declared Surat Cumulative Management Area (SCMA) – in response to the Coal Seam Gas Industry impacts – has never been more detailed.  The Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) are to be congratulated on their work and the quality and style of presentation and materials.

The work undertaken by OGIA, the data collected, its analysis, output and presentation is a lesson that needs be taken seriously by all other agencies (such as GISERA and UQ) in relation to the impacts of the CSG industry. It should be the standard by which all data that is collated, analysed and disseminated in relation to the CSG industry on impacts generally, but particularly emissions, atmospheric contaminants and health impact assessment specifically.

Not withstanding this, it must be said that the fact that government has allowed this industry such unprecedented access and impacts while using adaptive management approaches instead of the precautionary principle is fraught with consequences we are yet to reap (as this very report demonstrates). See below.

Present at the Chinchilla meeting were a number of representatives from the enforcement agencies of Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) and Department of Environment and Science (DES) to answer questions that landholders had regarding the application of the research from the OGIA to the permitting and decision making they undertake in relation to the industry.

The presentation detailed the following facts about our underground water:

  • current CSG production area has increased by 40% (approx. 2,000km2) since 2016
  • total production area (existing and planned) has increased by 17% to approximately 14,000km2
  • a total of 574 water bores are predicted to be impacted in the long term with an increase of 10% from those predicted in 2016, 101 of these are expected to be impacted in the next 3 years, 93 make good agreements have been concluded and 70 bores have been decommissioned
  • 5% of rainfall infiltrate to recharge the aquifers > CSG water extraction is about 60,000mL/year from 6,800 wells > Non-CSG extraction is about 164,000mL/ year > Leaves a deficit of 80,000mL/ year > Unsustainable use of the water bank
  • this year the UWIR shows some evidence of connectivity between the Walloons and the Springbok and the data shows evidence of CSG impacts occurring in the Springbok
  • although there is evidence that the Huttons Aquifer is in decline there is no evidence that there are any CSG impacts as yet, but there are predictions that there will be
  • there are 8 groups of springs in the SCMA that are predicted to be impacted by a pressure decline in their source aquifer.  Six of these are assessed as high risk and require mitigation actions assigned to tenure holders
  • impacts from CSG show that declines of more than 10m are largely limited to areas within 10km of CSG production wells, indicating that the cone of groundwater level decline around the CSG field is steep and generally confined to within 10-15km
  • a newly identified need in the UWIR and to be a requirement on the tenure holders is the need to provide production water chemistry through one sample per year from one identified CSG production well for each 10km x 10km block (total of 153 to date). This will assist OGIA to identify cross formational flow induced by development of the reservoir (this data may be also useful for other applications of interest to the landholders in regards to other industry impacts)
  • for the first time the UWIR included an assessment of cumulative impacts on environmental values such as ground water dependent ecosystems.  This UWIR has reported early results of their assessment and includes a mapped areas of high risk for impacts to groundwater dependent ecosystems and a mapped area of moderate to high risk of subsidence
  • the SCMA was declared in 2010.  In 2016 they amended the SCMA to include mining tenures. Which means that OGIA are now looking to include the impact that mines may have on the underground water since they are targeting the same coal formations (see information on the proposed inclusion of coal mining tenures in the SCMA).  Submissions for this are due by July 15.
  • landholders can contribute to the accuracy of models by providing their own data regarding consumptive water use, quality and quantity
  • impact on bores listed in the UWIR are based on a 5m draw down, although the increase of dissolved methane in the water and methane in the head space of the bores is a factor for make good, this is not included in the data gathered regarding the UWIR. 
  • the number of bores made good due to methane are not recorded in the UWIR.  DNRME could improve on this, requiring made good methane impacted bores to be included in the OGIA scope.  This could also include the potential impact of gas migration in the soil as another data set to be gathered by industry monitoring bores and also included in the scope

Attendee questions:

Shale exploration has just been announced for the Western Downs. 

Will the decision to permit this activity benefit from the OGIA and UWIR in the permitting and decision making in a way that CSG did not? (Answer – yes)

Attendees asked questions of the DES staff present to explain the interface between the UWIR and the decisions made regarding the Linc contamination and permits for CSG companies in the area.

Specifically issues such as:

  • where does the contamination from the Linc site appear in the UWIR?
  • how does the UWIR feature in the decisions made regarding permitting for gas companies in the vicinity of the Linc site?
  • if the impacted bores in the immediate vicinity of the Linc property show a decline in their water levels, which indicates movement of water (which may indicate movement of contamination already) how have they determined it is ok to allow further CSG activity in the impacted petroleum leases?

The answer to these questions by DES were that the information being requested would most probably be available through a Right to Information Request.

The DES representative was requested to attend a meeting with landholders to assist in formatting an effective application to target the information requested. This will be considered.

Landholder feedback on the UWIR 2019 closes on 7 July.

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