Environmental scientists Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher at work in their lab at SCU.
Environmental scientists Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher at work in their lab at SCU. Dominic Feain

SCU welcomes report on baseline testing for CSG

SOUTHERN Cross University has welcomed the release of an initial report on coal seam gas activities across NSW by the state Government's chief scientist and engineer professor Mary O'Kane.

The university said the data would help to assess the impact of the coal seam gas (CSG) industry.

"We welcome this report which really vindicates our position, which is that it is very difficult to assess the impact of any industry if you don't have baseline data to start with," Damien Maher from SCU's Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research said.

"The report is comprehensive and endorses the need for research, and for that research to be independent so the public trusts the outcome.

Dr Maher and research colleagues, associate professor Isaac Santos and Douglas Tait, released data late last year showing methane concentrations around the Tara gas fields were significantly higher than surrounding areas which did not have CSG infrastructure.

They also found a significant link between atmospheric concentrations of radioactive radon gas in CSG fields and the number of CSG wells nearby.

Solid baseline data helps reduce concerns around an activity and helps with 'social licences' to operate by potentially removing inferred links to environmental impact such as groundwater quality and seismicity.

Dr Maher said his research aimed to provide comprehensive scientific data to inform the debate on CSG mining, while the chief scientist's report also called for robust baseline data.

"Solid baseline data helps to reduce concerns around an activity and helps with 'social licences' to operate by potentially removing inferred links to environmental impacts such as groundwater quality and seismicity. In other words, baseline data is critical in providing context and allowing critical assessment of any associated risks," the report states.

The report also calls for the need to compile long-term remote sensing data.

Dr Isaac Santos, one of the SCU scientists giving a free public lecture on CSG issues.
Dr Isaac Santos, one of the SCU scientists giving a free public lecture on CSG issues.

"That a pre-major-CSG whole-of-state subsidence baseline be calculated using appropriate remote sensing data going back, say, 15 years.

"And that, from 2013 onwards, an annual whole-of-state subsidence map be produced so that the State's patterns can be traced for the purpose of understanding and addressing any significant cumulative subsidence," the report states."

The report confirmed analytical equipment instrumentation used by SCU was indeed the correct way to gather relevant data.

"With this equipment we can make our measurements in situ and we can analyse the data in real-time. This enables us to make more detailed observations," Dr Maher said. Research by the SCU team continues at the Tara gas fields, as they work to develop modelling techniques to calculate methane emissions, with assistance from University of Melbourne scientists.

The Chief Scientist's initial report is available at chiefscientist.nsw.gov.au/coal-seam-gas-review/initial-report-july-2013.

-What do you think of the report? Leave your comments below.


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