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Australian river near fracking site bursts into flames

Australian river near fracking site bursts into flames thumbnail

In a protest against coal seam gas leaking into South West Queensland’s Condamine River, NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham headed to the river and hopped on a boat.

Then he sparked a lighter a few inches above the water and the river burst into flames.

He ignited gas that has been bubbling in the river which runs through the middle of Queensland’s coal seam gas fields, The Australian reports. The fire burned for more than an hour, Buckingham said.

He caught the incident on video and posted it to his Facebook page, where it has been shared more than 57,000 times since he uploaded it Friday.

Methane seeps in the river, near Chinchilla in south-west Queensland were first reported in 2012, with a series of investigations following after that, ABC News reports.

There are several coal seam gas (CSG) operations in the area and Buckingham says these are to blame

“This area has been drilled with thousands of CSG wells and fracked. This river for kilometers is bubbling with gas and now it’s on fire,” he said. “This is the future of Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin if we do not stop the frackers who want to spread across all states and territories … this is utterly unacceptable.”

There are numerous “scenarios” that may be contributing to the bubbling in the river, a 2013 report by the scientific analysis firm Norwest Corporation.

Natural events such as drought and recharging aquifers after floods, and human activity such as CSG operations and water bore drilling are some of the possible contributing factors.

Professor Damian Barrett is the lead researcher studying unconventional gas for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and he has been keeping an eye on the Condamine gas seeps, ABC News reports.

“The isotopic signature is telling us it’s coming from coal at that point in the landscape but coal is quite close to the surface and there’s a naturally existing small fault line, which cuts the river at that point,” he said.

Research shows that the rate of flow has been on the increase, he said.

And there are hundreds of CSG wells owned by Origin Energy, QGC and Arrow Energy, reports. Origin Energy, however, says the gas bubbles aren’t caused by CSG activity, and this statement is backed by the CSIRO. Instead, the seeps are caused naturally by geological faults and water springs.

But Buckingham has a different opinion, and in the video he can be heard exclaiming: “The most incredible thing I’ve seen, a tragedy in the Murray-Darling Basin … this is utterly unacceptable, its been brought to you by Labour, Liberal and National parties who back the dirty frackers – only the Greens think this is bloody crazy.”

Buckingham traveled to Chinchilla earlier this month, as part of the Greens campaign to put an end to fracking in Australia, reported. Here, hundreds of CSG wells owned by Origin Energy, QGC, and Arrow Energy spring up across the landscape.

People living in the community say the river never bubbled furiously or frequently before CGS mining was developed here.

Karen Auty, a local resident who is also an anti-CSG activist said it’s been troubling to see waterways contaminated and ground water levels fall.

“We are deeply concerned about the water,” she said.

Local residents have “very strong anecdotal evidence” because have lived in the area for several years with no problems “until the industry came to their neighborhood.”

“As local residents we want to know whether it is safe to live among all these gas wells and infrastructure, what are the impacts on our health?” she said.

Origin Energy said CSG activity in the river isn’t causing the methane bubbles, and in a fact sheet, the company reiterated that gas leaks seeping into the river are caused by natural geological faults.

It noted that a subsequent investigation of the seeps by the Queensland Government found no evidence of safety risk or environmental harm.”

Barrett said that methane seeps like this aren’t that unusual.

“The methane that is bubbling to the surface is like many other deposits around the world that have coal in them and it’s finding its way through natural cracks and fissures to the surface through the Condamine River.

Earlier this year he told ABC that the bubbling was intensifying.

“There have been changes in the flux of methane through the river over the past 12 months,” he said.

But Buckingham is skeptical and maintains the CSIRO is comprised because it is partly funded by mining companies, reports.

“I just don’t believe it. I just don’t trust what the CSIRO is saying and the farmers who’ve been there for many generations are saying they only started seeing this in 2012,” he said. “They only started seeing this after the frackers had been in, after the drilling had occurred.

The Ecologist notes it’s worrisome that depressurizing the coal seams for gas extraction may have caused methane gas to travel up through other cracks, fissures, and bores to the surface, just as it has done in the Condamine. It is polluting the river and the air and methane is a potent greenhouse gas so these emissions are a huge concern.

And while the gas bubbling is intensifying, it’s also spreading along the river. Origin Energy’s wells are in close proximity to the seep and the company has installed pipework to monitor the situation and the Queensland Government has installed stakes on the river bank to mark seeps that are visible.

Explosive gas boiling through a river is a sing of how damaging fracking and unconventional gas extraction may be, Buckingham said.

“We should be going with clean renewable energy and banning fracking and unconventional gas in Australia. The era of fossil fuels is over.”

He said he does not want to see this happen to any of the other rivers in New South Wales, “or anywhere else,” and wants the mining of unconventional gas to be stopped.

“The fact that this is happening in the Murray Darling Basin is a national disgrace,” he said.

But even with all the risks of harvesting natural gas, it’s nevertheless a considerably healthier fuel source than coal, Mother Jones reports. Estimates show that particulate pollution produced by coal plants killed 13,000 Americans in 2010, and a recent World Health Organization study reported that air pollution (in which coal burning is a major contributor) is the deadliest environmental hazard on earth.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have any health risks, because it does.

In terms of air pollution, studies have found carcinogenic and other dangerous air pollutants near gas wells in concentrations above EPA guidelines. The pollution was at its worst within a half-mile radius of the well. Even worse, one Colorado study found that some of the airborne pollutants were endocrine disruptors, which can impact fetal development. Numerous studies found precursors to ground-level ozone, known to cause cardiovascular disease. Silica sand is also used to keep underground cracks open and this can cause pulmonary disease and lung cancer. It was found in the air around well sites, Mother Jones reports.

Around one-third of the water/chemical/sand mixture that is pumped into wells comes back up again, full of toxic fracking chemicals compiled with heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Much of this wastewater is treated and recycled to be used for irrigation and agriculture or it’s dumped into lakes and rivers. Numerous studies have discovered that this menu of chemicals is so diverse that treatment is usually incomplete and has the potential to poison drinking water supplies with chemicals linked to a smorgasbord of ailments; everything from eye irritation to cancer and nervous system damage. And, of course, it has the potential to poison fish.

Damaged wells can also be problematic and drinking water can be contaminated if the cement casings around wells crack and leak. Methane leaking into drinking water wells from leaking gas wells caused faucets in Pennsylvania to spit fire. A study in Pennsylvania found methane in 82 percent of water wells that had been sampled. This study also concluded that concentrations of methane were six times higher for water wells less than one kilometer from a fracking well. And in Texas, one study found elevated levels of arsenic in water wells less than three kilometers from gas wells.

Mother Jones notes that these issues can be improved with engineering advancements; there are gadgets that can monitor for leaks and capture gas emissions, and hardier cement can be used.

15 Comments on "Australian river near fracking site bursts into flames"

  1. makati1 on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 8:44 pm 

    Always techie “fixes” offered. Never, “Maybe we should stop our … while we still can”.

    Pass the popcorn.

  2. geopressure on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 9:43 pm 

    Rivers often follow the surface expressions of faults – where gas seeps are prone to be found…

    This is not uncommon…

  3. geopressure on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 9:47 pm 

    “A study in Pennsylvania found methane in 82 percent of water wells that had been sampled. This study also concluded that concentrations of methane were six times higher for water wells less than one kilometer from a fracking well”

    This is exactly what you would expect to find in aquifers perched atop active source rocks… These findings are perfectly natural… Just because you drill/frack where there is gas does not meant the fracking put the gas in the aquifer…

    Generally speaking, environmentalists are not very smart…

  4. GregT on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 10:23 pm 

    “Generally speaking, environmentalists are not very smart…”

    Generally speaking, they’re smarter than the capitalists and the economists. At least they aren’t leading us down the path to planetary extinction.

  5. makati1 on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 11:25 pm 

    geo. you only prove your slavery to the system. And you believe the “surveys” without looking to see who funded them? Not very intelligent. TPTB know most will not bother so they can lie all they want. I never had a water source catch fire, nor had I ever heard of it happening until recently. Maybe fraking is the cause? LMAO at stupidity and gullibility.

  6. Apneaman on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 11:53 pm 

    Geo, what about this link? Did you read it before you started babbling?

    “There are numerous “scenarios” that may be contributing to the bubbling in the river, a 2013 report by the scientific analysis firm Norwest Corporation.”

    The Norwest Corporation are not environmentalists. For profit corporation. Pro resource extraction.

    If you read my comments it will be apparent that I’m highly critical of environmental groups, especially the big ones. I also dislike the pseudo ones, like Kenz that are just mindlessly repeating the mantra because that’s what you have to do on team left. As much as I dislike what they are doing or what they did not do, I can tell you many of them are highly intelligent.

    I been trying to behave myself in certain ways, but I have had enough of your conspiracy tard bullshit. You a fucking idiot boy. Dumber than a second coat of paint. Your never ending unsubstantiated conspiracy accusations are fucking boring, irritating and unoriginal.

  7. geopressure on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 3:44 am 

    Then don’t read them…

  8. geopressure on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 3:48 am 

    Environmentalists are people who are of above average intelligence, but they don’t quite make it a standard deviation above the average…

    Not dumb, I shouldn’t have said dumb, but nor are they the smartest tools in the shed…

    That’s just the way that it is…

  9. String900 on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 5:11 am 

    “A study in Pennsylvania found methane in 82 percent of water wells that had been sampled. This study also concluded that concentrations of methane were six times higher for water wells less than one kilometer from a fracking well”

    >> concentrations of methane were six times higher for water wells less than one kilometer from a fracking well.

    Only a FOOL could call this “natural”.

    6 Times higher is 600% higher. If you live in PA and near a water supply that’s 600% higher, YOU’D BETTER MOVE.

    There is a CRISIS in education in Rural Pennsylvania, and thanks to Republicans in the State, those rural districts will NEVER get the education funds they need.

  10. geopressure on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 5:38 am 


    Aquifers that sit atop active Source Rocks are prone to having high levels of light hydrocarbons (like methane) dissolved therein…

    Active Source rocks just happen to be the target of modern drilling/completion techniques…

    The Methane was in these aquifers long before the land was ever leased for drilling, heck, the methane was in the aquifers long before man ever set foot on this continent…

    Only a fool who doesn’t understand petroleum geology & migration pathways would ever blame this on fracking…

  11. joe on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 6:35 am 

    Wow. As soon as we quit cars, we will smash up the ground and replace CO2 with methane, a much worse greenhouse gas.
    No future.

  12. PracticalMaina on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 10:46 am 

    A small amount of hydrocarbons may already enter a well from an aquifer, but if an oil or gas well is fracked near by, of course the source rock is going to be disrupted and the hydrocarbons are going to be able to travel easier in higher volumes, right into the aquifer and some poor shmucks well, on a level significant enough to make that water no longer safe.
    Geo your priorities and outlook on the world make me sick. Only a fool would think the SPR was getting emptied during record low prices. Obama was trying to bankrupt his buddies at the big banks who are overexposed to fossil fuels, that makes sense right? Also if the Marcellus is so large, wouldn’t that put over half of the area of the state in that category? Interesting it is only near fracked wells that the 600% increase is reported.
    If this methane is so mobile in large quantity without fracking, why are we fracking? Hell lets just drill water wells and separate the methane and market both of em, its a perfect combo for the middle east or asia.

  13. Kenz300 on Thu, 28th Apr 2016 7:18 am 

    Busted! Fracking Chemical Found in Wyoming Water Supply | CleanTechnica

  14. rockman on Thu, 28th Apr 2016 7:35 am 

    String – Not to put words into geo’s mouth but understand that this isn’t an argument that some of the water well methane might not have be caused by man’s activities. But do a little research and you’ll find that such NATURAL contamination is very common in productive areas. In fact, identifying methane in water wells was one of the earliest exploration methods. Even 100+ years later surface hydrocarbon detection is still a common exploration tool in relatively unexplored areas.

    The trick is to distinguish between natural contamination and man-made contamination. And that’s difficult because the two areas overlap: you won’t see as much drilling/frac’ng in areas that don’t have a lot of methane naturally occurring in the fresh water aquifers. For instance 2 years ago I drilled a well in an area of Texas were there had been no previous drilling or frac’ng. But shallow NG production was well known in the trend. I found a very nice 20’ thick NG reservoir at 50” before the surface. I’m not talking about a methane contaminated zone but a pure methane reservoir. The water wells in this area are produced from 160’.

    And not just methane. The Rockman is currently working on a plan to increase production from THE FIRST large oil field discovered in Texas. Discover over 100 years ago it has produced over 44 million bbls of oil. And how was it discovered? A rancher was drilling for water and found that huge reservoir in the fresh water aquifer at a depth of 600’. Eventually more than 300 million bbls of oil have been produced from those fresh water aquifers in the trend. And has drilling activities every contaminated fresh water aquifers in Texas? yes: that has happened but represents a very tiny amount of volume compared to the naturally occurring shallow hydrocarbons.

    Again you don’t need to take geo’s or the Rockman’s word for: the Internet is full of details if you wish to educate yourself.

    Practical – You might want to do a little Internet research also: PA has a very long history of shallow hydrocarbon contamination that was developed long before the first well was frac’d there. As far as the mobility of methane it took millions of years for those shallow aquifers to be contaminated naturally. So it really isn’t that “mobile”. And yes: there are thousands fresh water wells in Texas that have not only methane separated from the fresh water but also oil.

    I could point you to one shallow oil field in Texas that has produced 3 million bbls of oil and 35 million bbls of fresh water. The nice thing about such fields is that you don’t have to pay to have the formation water (which is usually salty) injected down disposal wells: since it’s fresh water you can dump it directly on the ground once the oil is separated out. In fact in Wyoming they actually like that fresh water production from their coal bed methane fields given how arid much of the state is. A lot of that produced water has been used to make fish farms.

  15. rockman on Thu, 28th Apr 2016 7:36 am 

    String – 50′ and not 50″.

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