What the Frack?

What the Frack?: Everything you need to know about coal seam gas

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    What the Frack?
    Book Description:

    Australia has a new $60 billion-plus industry. Suddenly it seems, coal seam gas is being found everywhere: under homes, under farms, under forests. Communities across the country are up in arms and governments are scrambling to satisfy competing demands for affordable energy with protection of our land and water. Big oil and gas companies hope Australia will soon be the biggest liquid natural gas exporter in the world, but Greenies and farmers are united in their opposition to coal seam gas extraction, especially on our most fertile agricultural land. In this brilliant account, journalist and energy expert Paddy Manning unpicks the coal seam gas extraction story, visiting drill sites, boardrooms, pipelines, parliamentary offices and angry farm-gate protests. It seems that coal seam gas extraction may be one boom that’s happening too fast.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-615-4
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 6-7)
  4. Acronyms
    (pp. 8-8)
  5. Coal seam gas map
    (pp. 9-9)
  6. CHAPTER 1 A golden age of gas?
    (pp. 10-31)

    Chinchilla magistrate Matthew McLaughlin was clearly sympathetic. In a tight little courtroom on Queensland’s Darling Downs, with camera crews waiting outside, he told the three defendants he was well aware of the debate about coal seam gas and had his own personal views about it.

    I’ve done some reading recently in aNational Geographic, if I remember, that raised great concerns with me personally about what’s happening. It was talking about what’s already happened in the United States … My own personal opinion though is irrelevant, of course. I’m simply here to enforce the rules that the government makes …...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Gladstone: Spoils of a boom
    (pp. 32-42)

    Greg ‘Bear’ O’Reilly, part-owner of Pat’s Tackleworld in Gladstone, Queensland, is wrestling grief following the death of his 21-year-old son Liam in a fatal crash on the Bruce Highway on a Monday morning in January 2012. Liam, a nurse, was in a line of cars backed up due to an accident north of Mount Larcom. A B-double carrying waste oil slammed into the back of Liam’s car without even braking. Tributes to Liam flowed on Facebook as the news rocked Gladstone. The truck driver may have been negligent but this was not an isolated incident. Heavy-vehicle traffic on the two-lane...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Fracking: A risky business
    (pp. 43-63)

    The coal seam gas boom posed so many new challenges to the Queensland government that it brought in an ‘adaptive’ regulatory framework. The state’s ‘Blueprint for the LNG Industry’, tabled in parliament by then Premier Anna Bligh in September 2009, explained that the adaptive environmental approval regime would ‘allow existing environmental authorities to be altered should significant unintended environmental outcomes occur’.¹

    For some, that means ‘learning by doing’; others call it ‘suck it and see’ or an ‘uncontrolled experiment’ on rural communities and the environment.² For the gas companies, adaptive management presents a risk that tighter regulatory controls might be...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Is there a drop to drink?
    (pp. 64-86)

    In December 2010 the National Water Commission sounded the alarm, urging caution on coal seam gas and warning that, among other things, fracking had the potential to cross-contaminate aquifers, which would have an impact on groundwater quality.¹

    The cumulative effects of multiple coal seam gas projects were ‘not well understood’, the commission warned, and posed a substantial risk to sustainable water management. Extracting large volumes of low-quality water from coal seams would have an impact on connected surface and groundwater systems, ‘some of which may already be fully or over allocated, including the Great Artesian Basin and Murray-Darling Basin’. Pressure...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Worse than coal?
    (pp. 87-98)

    It’s often said that gas is the ‘cleanest’ fossil fuel and burning it for electricity produces ‘half of’ or ‘up to 70 per cent fewer’ greenhouse gases than coal, the biggest contributor to climate change. But it turns out a proper assessment of the relative emissions of coal and gas – especially unconventional gas production, and especially when used for export as LNG – can get very complicated.

    Comparisons generally depend on a counterfactual scenario, in which emissions savings are claimed for gas relative to some hypothetical, dirtier coal-fired plant. Firstly, how clean or dirty that coal plantmightbe...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Backlash: Locking the gate
    (pp. 99-119)

    Grazier and former flying vet Lee McNicholl and his wife Megan spent more than 15 years in Mount Isa before moving to their 5670-hectare property near Dulacca, on the western Darling Downs. ‘We came here to get away from a mining town’, he says, in a glancing reference to the lead poisoning later found there.

    An impressive 66-year-old, McNicholl still plays rugby with his beloved Condamine Cods and is a key figure in one of the most remarkable grass-roots movements seen in Australia: the alliance of farmers and greenies against coal seam gas development. He is also a firm supporter...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Queensland: Surat Basin or the Darling Downs?
    (pp. 120-151)

    For four months, Tony and Rachel Pascoe had no idea there was anything wrong with the Condamine River that ran through their property. Then in May 2012 a couple of guys who’d been fishing at a popular spot at the bottom of their 1130-hectare dairy and cattle farm near Chinchilla, told them about the gas that had been bubbling up since January, maybe earlier. The Pascoes went down to check it out for themselves. Neither Tony, born and bred in the area, nor his father, a local of some 70 years, had ever seen anything like it.

    Busy with the...

  13. CHAPTER 8 New South Wales: Green light for gas
    (pp. 152-165)

    In October 2011 NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher told an industry forum NSW was ‘not going down the Queensland route’:

    Although I say that with the greatest respect to our northern colleagues, the Queensland route was quick, it was in many places ill conceived and has caused problems.¹

    Ahead of the state election in March that year, the Coalition said that ‘agricultural land and other sensitive areas exist in NSW where mining and coal seam gas extraction should not occur’. This was widely interpreted as a commitment to identify ‘no-go’ areas that would be off-limits to mining. After the election,...

  14. Conclusion: The food task versus the energy task
    (pp. 166-176)

    Exploration for coal seam gas has now fanned out right across the country, from Tasmania to the Northern Territory. In Western Australia, Titan Energy is exploring the Perth Basin near Eneabba, and has also drilled near the town of Vasse, in the beautiful Margaret River wine district, targeting coal seams just 110–140 metres deep. Its permits in the Vasse area have expired but Titan has applied for a new prospecting authority, and will face determined opposition.¹

    In late August 2012 the Victorian government put new approvals for coal seam gas exploration and fracking on hold, and banned all use...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)