CSIRO study reveals coal seam fracking not harmful to environment

CSIRO has completed a three-year study on the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in rural Queensland – and found the process has “little to no impact” on local air, soil, waterway and groundwater quality.

CSIRO Headquarters. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/


Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial method for extracting gas from coal seams beneath the ground (CSG). Water is pumped into a coal seam, causing structural fractures that create a path for the gas to transfer to collection points (wells) above ground.


The CSG industry is relatively new and still dealing with unfounded activist claims that fracking causes serious environmental and health risks.

CSIRO’s study provides crucial evidence to the contrary, which should promote expansion of the CSG industry in Australia an industry that injects billions of dollars into the economy and provides thousands of jobs.


The study monitored six coal seam gas wells in the Surat Basin in Queensland; analysing air, water and soil samples at taken before, during and six months after hydraulic fracturing operations.


Key findings:

  • Hydraulic fracturing operations had little to no impact on air quality

  • No hydraulic fracturing chemicals were detected in nearby groundwater bores or creeks

  • Biocides used in the fracking process were completely degraded in soil samples within two to three days


The CSIRO study reinforced the importance of CSG water treatment in handling elevated concentrations of fracking chemicals, dissolved salts, ammonia and metals in well water immediately after fracturing.

Hydraulic Fracturing Process. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/


The study investigated the Reedy Creek Water Treatment Facility (WTF), which treats coal seam gas (CSG) water from approximately 600 wells in the Surat Basin.


The 40 million litre per day facility uses a combination of water treatment technologies – filtration, chloramination disinfection, membrane filtration and reverse osmosis – which treat the water for discharge into local aquifers (re-injection) and creeks.


The coal seam water feeding into Reedy Creek WTF is slightly alkaline pH (8.8), with a small amount of suspended material (TSS 15 mg/L) and dissolved elements: sodium (1,100 mg/L), chloride (1,500 mg/L), a small amount of hardness (calcium 8 mg/L & magnesium 3 mg/L), boron (600 µg/L) and trace metals (aluminium, copper, manganese).


The Reedy Creek WTF operates at approximately 85 per cent water recovery, with the remaining 15 per cent (6 million litres per days) becoming a concentrated brine of mostly sodium and chloride. The brine is sent to nearby brine ponds where the water evaporates, leaving salts to precipitate.

Reedy Creek Water Treatment Facility: Feed Water and Brine Ponds. Source: Google Maps


CSIRO found the Reedy Creek WTF was “effective in removing hydraulic fracturing chemicals and naturally occurring (geogenic) chemicals to within water quality guidelines”.


This highlights the significance of water treatment within the CSG industry, and shows the importance of having a well-designed water treatment process to handle CSG contaminants.


For more information on CSG water treatment, see this article.


A copy of the full CSIRO report can be found here.

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