METGASCO has confirmed methane gas has escaped from two of its drilling wells, prompting calls that the industry regulator immediately inspect all coal seam wells in the region to discover if more are leaking.
Metgasco's chief operations officer, Mick O'Brien, said yesterday methane was found to be leaking from sealed wells near Bentley and north-west of Casino.
“These were small gas leaks from the piping connections at the top of the ground,” he said, adding they have both since been re-sealed.
“At Bentley we couldn't detect any methane, but I heard someone managed to light it and from the piping you would expect it to be methane.”
Mr O'Brien said it was only a small amount of gas that had leaked, but could not quantify it as the company had problems detecting the highly flammable gas.
However, the Environmental Defenders Office said the regulator, Ind-ustry and Investment NSW, should more closely monitor drilling programs.
“I don't know how they (Metgasco) can say it is only a small amount if they can't say how much,” EDO education officer Mark Byrne said.
“We don't know how many of these wells are leaking methane. What we do know is there doesn't appear to be regular inspection by the State Government.”
Coal seam gas mining has become controversial since the release of the US film Gasland, with the NSW Farmers Association, Australian Greens, Lismore City Council and Rous Water all calling for a moratorium on drilling.
There are 45 approved production wells across the Northern Rivers and about 100 approvals for exploratory drilling.
Metgasco inspected its Bentley well after a community activist filmed gas bubbles emerging from around the “sealed” drill well.
“We do check them (sealed wells) every six months,” Mr O'Brien said. “As soon as we saw the video we went back and checked it.”
However, the confirmation came as a surprise to Industry and Investment NSW, which is charged with overseeing the burgeoning sector.
A spokesperson later emailed a response to questions saying the department was aware of the complaint lodged about Metgasco's Bentley well.
“Senior experts with Industry and Investment NSW's safety and environment units are currently carrying out a detailed assessment of the issue,” the spokesperson said.
“I&I has also asked for a full and detailed report from the company on the situation.”
EDO senior solicitor Sue Higginson said as more gas wells were proposed to be drilled across the Northern Rivers the regulator needed to urgently inspect all wells to allay community fears.
“We are seeking a much more comprehensive and adequate response from the regulator given the seriousness of wells leaking methane in the context of growing community concerns,” she said.
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