Fracking  is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a process being used  to increase the flow of coal seam gas (CSG) from underground coal deposits. It is a topic that has country towns in uproar, as gas exploration companies try to gain access to private farms, to do test drilling with a view to extracting gas at the site.

Is coal seam gas the same thing as natural gas?

Conventional natural gas is found in permeable sandstone reservoirs, these are tapped into and the gas is extracted with minimal impact to surrounding subsoil and rock formations. With regard to Fracking however, it has been discovered that if a split is forced between the coal faces a gas forms, this gas is called Coal Seam Gas. It is sometimes found naturally in underground coal deposits, and it is classified as an unconventional natural gas. In 2009-2010, CSG accounted for 10 per cent of total gas production. Not satisfied with waiting for nature to form this gas, it has been discovered that gaps or seams can be forced into existing coal deposits, this is to achieve an increase in financial profit from Coal. Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, sand and chemicals down a well under extreme pressure to create cracks in coal seams, once there, the material used in fracking stays beneath the earth. This is an expensive undertaking, so it’s not carried out on every well. Between 5 and 15 per cent of wells in Australia have been fracked. However, a report commissioned by a CSG company suggests this figure could rise to 70 per cent in some areas. This is where the issue becomes testy.

So the CSG issue is one of cause and effect for us humans, do we contaminate the earth as a trade off for gas?

Of particular concern are the BTEX chemicals, these are the following four… benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. Benzene, is a known human carcinogen. The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association states on its website that BTEX chemicals, though used in the US, are not used in fracking fluids in Australia. In July last year however, benzene and toluene were found in groundwater monitoring wells in Kingaroy, Qld. The plant was closed by the Qld Department of Environment and Resource Management and has yet to be reopened. Later in the year, benzene was detected in the wells of two other Qld operations. All three companies denied using fracking fluid containing BTEX chemicals and their investigations pointed to diesel and lubricants as possible sources of the contaminants. The Qld government has banned the use of these chemicals in fracking fluids, and NSW is considering a similar ban.

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