Coal seam gas drilling rig on the Western Downs.
Coal seam gas drilling rig on the Western Downs. Contributed

Business leader calls for 'golden rules' for gas industry

A TOOWOOMBA business leader has called for Queensland's coal seam gas industry to develop a set of "golden rules" similar to those established by the International Energy Agency.

The International Energy Agency has released its 20 golden rules for gas development.

The rules, which apply to gas developments across the world, place an emphasis on social and environmental protection.

Many have come from experiences in Colarado, which has a long established coal seam gas industry.

Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise CEO Shane Charles said there would benefits for the local coal seam gas industry to invest in a similar set of guiding principles.

"While too much regulation is not warranted, some guiding principles might be of assistance to see the public confidence restored through the demonstration of exemplary performance," he said.

"The coal seam gas industry in Colorado has been around for a lot longer than Australia's industry has, so there is a lot to learn from them."

Mr Charles said Australia was a significant producer of coal seam gas already.

"Having a set of guidelines that underline the importance of complete transparency, assessing and observing any environmental impacts and local community engagement is assured to benefit our industry locally," he said.

International Energy Agency executive director Maria van der Hoeven said technology and know-how already existed for unconventional gas to be produced in an environmentally acceptable way.

"But if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks," she said.

"The industry must win; governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place."

The Golden Rules (as determined by the International Energy Agency)

Measure, disclose and engage

  • Establish baselines for key environmental indicators, such as groundwater quality, prior to commencing activity, with continued monitoring during operations.
  • Measure and disclose operational data on water use, on the volumes and characteristics of waste water and on methane and other air emissions, alongside full, mandatory disclosure of fracturing fluid additives and volumes.
  • Minimise disruption during operations, taking a broad view of social and environmental responsibilities, and ensure that economic benefits are also felt by local communities.

Watch where you drill

  • Choose well sites so as to minimise impacts on the local community, heritage, existing land use, individual livelihoods and ecology.
  • Properly survey the geology of the area to make smart decisions about where to drill and where to hydraulically fracture: assess the risk that deep faults or other geological features could generate earthquakes or permit fluids to pass between geological strata.
  • Monitor to ensure that hydraulic fractures do not extend beyond the gas producing formations.

Isolate wells and prevent leaks

  • Put in place robust rules on well design, construction, cementing and integrity testing as part of a general performance standard that gas bearing formations must be completely isolated from other strata penetrated by the well, in particular freshwater aquifers.
  • Consider appropriate minimum-depth limitations on hydraulic fracturing to underpin public confidence that this operation takes place only well away from the water table.
  • Take action to prevent and contain surface spills and leaks from wells, and to ensure that any waste fluids and solids are disposed of properly.

Treat water responsibly

  • Reduce freshwater use by improving operational efficiency; reuse or recycle, wherever practicable, to reduce the burden on local water resources.
  • Store and dispose of produced and waste water safely.
  • Minimise use of chemical additives and promote the development and use of more environmentally benign alternatives.

Eliminate venting, minimise flaring and other emissions

  • Target zero venting and minimal flaring of natural gas during well completion and seek to reduce fugitive and vented greenhouse-gas emissions during the entire productive life of a well.

Ensure a consistently high level of environmental performance

  • Ensure that anticipated levels of unconventional gas output are matched by commensurate resources and political backing for robust regulatory regimes at the appropriate levels, sufficient permitting and compliance staff, and reliable public information.
  • Find an appropriate balance in policy-making between prescriptive regulation and performance-based regulation in order to guarantee high operational standards while also promoting innovation and technological improvement.
  • Ensure that emergency response plans are robust and match the scale of risk.
  • Pursue continuous improvement of regulations and operating practices.
  • Recognise the case for independent evaluation and verification of environmental performance.
  • Minimise air pollution from vehicles, drilling rig engines, pump engines and compressors.
  • Be ready to think big
  • Seek opportunities for realising the economies of scale and co-ordinated development of local infrastructure that can reduce environmental impacts.
  • Take into account the cumulative and regional effects of multiple drilling, production and delivery activities on the environment, notably on water use and disposal, land use, air quality, traffic and noise.

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