2015 Media Releaes
Baseline data set for Northern Rivers area in New South Wales earmarked for possible future coal seam gas development
The first atmospheric and water chemistry studies to set baselines levels for future coal seam gas developments have found no fugitive methane emissions.
Southern Cross University spent more than a year collecting data over hundreds of kilometres from coal seams and water bores in the Richmond River catchment in New South Wales.
The catchment stretches from the north of Byron Shire and south and west to Casino and Kyogle and takes in an area with existing coal seam gas (CSG) exploration wells but with no existing operations at this time.
Lead author Dr Douglas Tait says setting baseline data is crucial to understand if any future CSG projects create fugitive emissions.
"It's similar to going in to a doctor if you feel unwell and they run some blood tests in order to know if there's a problem," Dr Tait said.
"The doctor has to have some sort of indication of what's normal.
"What we're providing is essentially a normal range from which any impacts can be determined."
Dr Douglas Tait was assisted by lead researcher, PhD candidate Marie Atkins.
"We found no evidence of methane moving from the coal seams into the overlying groundwater," she said.
"Overall, we found good groundwater quality throughout the catchment."
Dr Douglas said they measured atmospheric radon, methane and carbon dioxide concentrations to look at how those gases are currently being released to the atmosphere.
"All evidence points towards natural processes controlling atmospheric methane concentrations in the region," he said.
"Factors such as the time of day, season and the amount of rain all influenced the measured gas concentration.
"A separate groundwater study provided crucial baseline information on groundwater chemistry in an area earmarked for future CSG extraction."
Dr Tait said the research team were not aware if any of the exploration wells in the region they tested had been fracked.
The peer reviewed research has been published in local and international publications including the Journal of Hydrology.
New research comes to life
A NEW facility on the Coffs Coast is set to play a major role in advancing research into carbon sequestration and pollution in Australia.
A radioisotope laboratory has officially opened at Southern Cross University's National Marine Science Centre, where researchers will use state of the art technology to investigate carbon sequestration in mangrove forests and marine systems.
Professor Isaac Santos said some of the instruments are the first of their kind in Australia and enable researchers to measure a range of natural and artificial radioactive chemicals.
"We specialise in the use of natural radionuclides that can date soil and sediment samples," Prof Santos said.
"We are reconstructing environmental histories dating back 150 years which is exactly the time scale of many environmental issues currently being debated.
"This is an outstanding facility that puts SCU in a great competitive position."
Dr Christian Sanders said key questions of research included where carbon comes from, where it goes, and if carbon sequestration is impacted by climate change.
He said findings could have significant ramifications for the preservation of sensitive marine environments.
"Sequestering carbon in marine ecosystems has the potential to become a major accounting tool in future carbon economies," he said.
"Because mangroves lock up lots of carbon, we have good reasons for preserving them, not draining mangroves or building houses on top of them."
Funding for the project was granted by the Australian Research Council.
The radioisotope laboratory is also being used as a hub for research from other universities across Australia and overseas.
Trace quantities of radioactivity are found in all natural substances and can be used to understand the behaviour of specific processes, such as the global carbon cycle.
By looking at the quantities of some trace elements, researchers can improve their knowledge and understanding.
SNAPSHOT OF RICHMOND VALLEY GROUND WATER QUALITY
Scientists at Southern Cross University say they can now accurately monitor the potential impacts of coal seam gas mining in the Northern Rivers.
Their research provides a snap shot of ground water quality in the Richmond Valley.