Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is commonly known, is the process of injecting pressurised water and chemicals into rock formations deep underground, causing fractures in the rock, releasing the gases contained within.
The extraction of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) by this method has been on the increase in Australia during recent years and a major concern for Australia’s agricultural community and land owners is the consequence that this process may have on their ground water supplies and aquifers.
Aquifers are a life line in the drier areas of Australia, with farmers and land owners using them to provide drinking water for their stock as well as for irrigation and domestic purposes. Coal seam gas water is the by-product of the fracking process and is placed into above ground evaporation ponds. There is also concern regarding these evaporation ponds and their long term effect on their direct environs.
Earlier this year, The National Toxics Network (NTN) released a briefing paper on the chemicals used in CSG extraction, calling for a suspension of the drilling and fracking chemicals until they have been assessed by a federal regulator for their possible environmental and health hazards. The NSW government has recently extended its suspension of fracking until the end of the year and has introduced strict licences and rules on coal seam gas exploration.
Many observers, including the National Farmers Federation, are in agreement that a harmonised framework be developed across all States and Territories on future coal seam gas developments to ensure continuity for the entire country.
There have been 1000 incidents across 6 states in the United States where ground water has been contaminated, and the potential for the degradation of ground water systems should not be taken lightly.
This is especially true when areas such as the Great Artesian Basin provide a reliable source of fresh water to the dry interior of Australia and its surrounding land owners and farmers. It should also be remembered that the value of the land in Australia for agricultural production should not be underestimated.