Coal Seam Gas lies

A farmer from QLD came to our area recently to speak of his experiences with coal seam gas company representatives. “They look you in the eye, and they lie, lie, lie”, he said. “And if a man’s word is no good, he’s no good.”

Peter Henderson is the CEO of Metgasco, a company that is involved in coal seam gas mining in our area. He fronted up to a community meeting in Casino last week, to give a talk and answer some questions. Felice and I went along, to listen to his side of the story.

Now, far be it from us to call Peter Henderson a liar. You can make up your own mind about that. But these are some of the things Peter Henderson tried to tell the Casino community:

The typical amount of infrastructure to be installed on a farmer’s land

Peter showed a picture of the kind of equipment that Metgasco would install on a farmer’s land. It looked pretty insignificant, and he told us it was “about the size of a large chicken coop”. Some observant spark in the audience pointed out that the picture didn’t include the inevitable associated “produced water” pond, and asked how big that would be. Peter replied, “About 25m by 25m”.

Really? Mark Byrne of the Environmental Defenders Office pointed out that Metgasco’s own documents indicated it would be more like 12 hectares. Did Peter not know? Or did he look us in the eye and lie, lie lie? 12 hectares is one big chicken coop, and a lot larger than 25m by 25m.

**[Since I wrote this, it’s been pointed out to me (see comments below) that evaporation ponds are generally sited on land belonging to the gas companies themselves, not to farmers.  That’s good to hear, at least.  So why didn’t Peter Henderson point that out on the night?   And even if the pond isn’t on land belonging to a private individual, why did he tell us it would only be 25m by 25m?  More on this in the comments section.]

The quality of “produced water” 1

(Produced water is a waste product of coal seam gas mining.  It contains toxic substances from within the coal seam, and often also contains toxic fracking chemicals.  The Chesapeake Energy website says, “The natural formation water [in this case, water in the coal bed] and the water injected during the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process are collectively referred to as produced water.”  Safe disposal of produced water is a major problem for everyone, including coal seam gas companies).

Peter had the text “The quality of water produced [by Metgasco] is as good, if not better, than elsewhere” printed clearly on his Powerpoint presentation. He also told us “The water produced is not toxic” and presented some test results to give the impression he had evidence for his claim. However, the test results he gave were only for harmless and common ions, like calcium and magnesium. Immediately prior to Henderson’s talk, Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith of the National Toxics Network had described a number of toxins that were likely to be present in any produced water. When Henderson was asked why he didn’t show us results for the toxic chemicals that are likely to be present, he admitted they hadn’t tested for them. So how can Metgasco be in a position to assure people their produced water is safe?

The quality of produced water 2

On a related note, Henderson also claimed that the salinity (as measured by conductivity) of Metgasco’s produced water met acceptable standards. When a woman from the audience presented the results of a test that she had commissioned on the water from a pond next to a Metgasco well in the local Kingfisher gasfield (showing very high conductivity – much higher than Henderson had claimed in his talk) Henderson told her “I think you’re getting confused”, and claimed that the Kingfisher well was not relevant to the meeting, because it wasn’t a coal seam gas well. He also implied that the water from the lady’s test couldn’t have been “produced water”, because no fracking took place there.

Not being familiar with Metgasco’s Casino operations, I left the meeting with the impression that Kingfisher must have been a conventional gas well only, and probably wasn’t anything to do with Metgasco, and that the poor woman probably just got the wrong end of the stick. Later I asked around some people who were there, and they left with the same impression.

But, bearing in mind the QLD farmer’s experience, when I went home, I googled Kingfisher, and it is a Metgasco well, and it does have unconventional gas, and they do frack, and it does create produced water.  According to Metgasco’s own press release, in Kingfisher “several zones have been identified as “tight gas” which will require stimulation [fracking] to enhance productivity”.  The same press release, from Nov 2010, states that “Metgasco…is pleased to advise that the trial stimulation [fracking] program for Kingfisher E01 is in progress”.  Henderson was correct in saying that Kingfisher isn’t a coal seam gas well, but the distinction is spurious, because Kingfisher contains tight gas, a similar type of unconventional gas, which still needs to be fracked. The gas comes from impermeable rock or sand, instead of from a coal seam, so while there may not be coal bed water to contribute to the volume of produced water, there are still the fracking fluids and water to deal with.  So the issue of produced water remains and is very relevant, especially if the salinity levels were “excessive” as the woman’s lab report stated.  Again, from Metgasco’s own press release,

“After the stimulation treatment, the well was allowed to flow continuously for 4 hours to allow a flowback of  frac fluids and sand proppant.  The well is currently cleaning up and is returning gas, frac fluids and water from the stimulation treatment.”

“Frac fluids and water from the stimulation treatment” sounds awfully like produced water to me.

To give Henderson the benefit of the doubt, it could be that no produced water is stored at Kingfisher, and that’s why Henderson said the woman must have been confused.  It may have been that the woman sampled water from a pond containing fluids yet to be used in drilling or fracking, rather than (technically) “produced water”.  But a large pond full of highly saline water, whatever it’s called, is still a worry for local farmers.

So, on the night, Henderson presented his company’s waste as safe and harmless, and when confronted with laboratory evidence that contradicted his claims, he responded, not by addressing the concerns of the community, as you’d expect from a CEO with nothing to hide, but with what seemed deliberate fudging and misdirection, and by directly challenging the questioner’s intelligence.

By three-quarters through the night, the audience was getting the picture. I heard a couple of people begin to call Henderson “Peter Pants-on-Fire”, as in “liar, liar…etc”. When Henderson insisted that his company’s activities would be “good for the community”, he was met by a collective groan of disbelief from the audience.

Other claims made by Henderson which are demonstrably false :

“Methane is not toxic”

Methane (CAS# 74-82-8) is an asphyxiant (ie you can suffocate in it) and is flammable over a wide range of concentrations in air (ie it can easily burn and/or explode). The Sigma-Aldrich materials safety data sheet (MSDS) also says “May be harmful if inhaled. May cause respiratory tract irritation…. Beware of vapours accumulating to form explosive concentrations.” How is that not toxic?

“Fracking is a safe practice…It is already being managed safely with beneficial impact on the environment”.

I know that people say there are two sides to every story, but there really isn’t to this one. Here are some links that demonstrate that fracking has multiple and catastrophic effects on the environment, and people’s health.

Gas is “the cleanest fossil fuel”

This is an oft-repeated porky from the CSG industry. It might be true if you only count greenhouse emissions when methane is finally burnt.  It isn’t true if you also take into account methane leaks, contamination of air, contamination of water, clearing of vegetation, loss of arable farmland and so on.  See the links above.  Or watch the movie “Gasland“, which is about a similar type of unconventional gas mining (shale gas) that has pretty much identical environmental consequences.

Oh, I can’t go on. It’s too flabbergasting that a grown man would even think to tell a roomful of grown men and women such a load of obvious porkies. Did he think we wouldn’t catch on? How can we ever trust anything Metgasco says, if this is how the CEO acts in public? Honestly. Bloody snake oil salesmen.

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11 Responses to Coal Seam Gas lies

  1. Margie Brace says:

    Thank you for putting this information together so well. I also was at the meeting and felt extremely uncomfortable about the misinformation Peter Henderson was giving us. You have addressed my concerns so clearly and followed up on the issues he fudged.

    • Brian Robertson says:

      Should I be unlucky enough to have one of these put up in our area.
      My answer at this stage is as follows
      Large notice board advising
      CEO name and address
      Workers on site photos
      And advise the following
      “Should you poison our water supply, you will drink it, may take a long time.
      But every time you use water think about it”

      Brian Robertson

  2. simon says:

    Hi Sarah & Felice , thank you for taking the time and effort to expose these bloody liars. I was at that meeting and attest to the veracity of your report. It is the upraised voices of the men & women of integrity that will bring light into this darkness, may the Goddess bless you .
    For the Earth Simon

  3. Same Story in Germany. We are also sitting on Coal Seam Gas here in northern North-Rhine Westfalia and ExxonMobile told us wonderful stories how safe everything is.

    We set up a citizens movement and now have achieved a moratorium in North-Rhine Westfalia and we are working toward a change of the mining law, to enforce protection for our environment.

    Together, we can stop fracking.


    • Sarah says:

      Congratulations on the moratorium, Joern. Really good to hear about.
      It’s encouraging for us here to have contact with people in other countries who are facing the same issues. The more we combine forces, and share information, the better. Very best of luck with your journey towards changing your mining laws.


  4. Pingback: Coal seam gas lies 2 | Coal Seam Gas Australia

  5. John says:

    If you want to engage in calling the proponents of coal seam gas liars then how about you yourself not engaging in the same practice of lies and misinformation. Your article is full of inaccuracies and misdirection. Here are a couple:
    – The equipment installed at each of the well heads is in fact about the size of a chicken coop. The ponds you are refering to are located at the gas collection hubs. These are generally located on land owned by the respective gas companies. Check out the facts you can find pictures of well heads on the internet. If you don’t believe these then visit the sites yourself before you start spreading misinformation.
    – The higher concentration of salt you are refering to come as a result of the fact that the gas companies use the ponds to evaporate off water from the produced water discharged into the ponds. When you continue to evaporate water off it is natural that the pond concentration increases this is done deliberately to concentate the salt brine so it can be more easily transported for disposal.
    – Fracking is not normally used for coal seam gas extraction. The well you mentioned is tight gas where fracking is used. It is an expensive process and normally not used for coal seam gas because it is not necessary.
    – Methane is a naturally occuring gas. It is in the air all around us. If you are a farmer you have probably been exposed to more methane gas than you ever will be from any normal proximity to a coal seam gas well. The gas companies sell methane gas the last thing they want is to have their product leaking away into the atmosphere. Of course some minor leaks will occur from time to time but the volume of this gas is insignificant compared to the emmissions that are occuring all the time from the natural environment.

    If you want to maintain some credability in this debate you should put out the fire on your own pants.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for posting. It’s really good to get a discussion going about this whole thing, and I welcome feedback like yours. I’m sorry it took a couple of days to reply – things have got a little crazy around here – there’s the Senate Inquiry submission deadline, plus a looming submission deadline for our local draft LEP (the LEP that makes it easier for CSG companies to come onto people’s land). Plus I have food to be growing, so it all has to be done in my free time.

      I do make an effort to be as accurate as I can in my posts. Let me deal with each of your points in turn:

      Re: wellheads and evaporation ponds. “The ponds you are refering to … are generally located on land owned by the respective gas companies.”

      Thanks for clarifying that. It certainly wasn’t clear when Peter Henderson explained it. The question asked on the night was, “what is the size of the associated evaporation pond?” Peter Henderson indeed said 25m by 25m, and I’m sure everyone in the audience could confirm that. Mark Byrne of the EDO pointed out that Metgasco’s documents contained plans for evaporation ponds up to 12ha. So why didn’t Peter Henderson clarify on the night? I don’t think he’s an incompetent man.

      But I also think an important point about evaporation ponds is that even though they’re not on your property, they still affect you, through air pollution (evaporation of VOCs) and the potential for escape of contaminated water from ponds (through leaks, or overflow due to high rainfall/floods, for example). So, even if the well infrastructure actually on your land is only “the size of a large chicken coop”, the fact you’ve got a well means you’re more likely to be within coo-ee of a gas collection hub, and that evaporation pond. The larger the pond, the larger the consequences, so it’s important to know how big they generally are. So I stand by my statement that Henderson was being economical with the truth by trying to tell us it would be 25m by 25m.

      UPDATE: This is getting complicated. I just read (2/9/11) a QGC report (QGC is the company mining at Tara) that states:

      Each well, at which fracing is conducted, will require a frac pond. The frac pond will have a construction footprint of approximately 1ha…Frac ponds are required for the frac process and to store initial flowback and produced water.”

      So even if “evaporation ponds” are generally located on gas company property, it sure looks like “frac ponds” are located wherever there’s a well that needs fracking. Not that I’m doubting your word, but I’d just like to ask again – where did you find your info about the evap ponds being only on gas company land?

      Re: concentrating salt in evaporation ponds.

      I understand what an evaporation pond is, and does. It’s there to reduce the volume of contaminated water, to make it easier to dispose of. The problem is, what you end up with, is water containing a higher concentration of contaminants. Whether that’s deliberate or not doesn’t change the fact that you’ve got a large volume of contaminated water sitting in a shallow pond, and that there is a known risk that that contaminated water can escape, through leakage or flooding, as I mentioned above. Because of that risk, it’s important for mining companies to be straight with us about what’s in the water. Again, I stand by my statement that Henderson wasn’t being straight with us.

      Re: Fracking not used for CSG extraction

      This wasn’t my point in the post, but I’d like to address this here because it’s important. Fracking _is_ used for CSG extraction. Some CSG can be extracted without fracking, but definitely not all.

      Here’s an extract from a mining company (QGC) report (straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak):

      Hydraulic fracturing (fraccing) is a process using high pressure pumps to inject mostly water and sand back into wells to open and connect tiny cracks already present in coal seam gas (CSG) reservoirs…Fracturing fluid (frac fluid) comprises water, sand and chemicals that are combined and injected into the coal seam at high pressure. The fluid is formulated with chemicals, or additives that aid the frac process (eg viscosifiers, surfactants and pH control agents) and biocides that inhibit biological fouling and subsequent downhole corrosion. ” (my bold)

      Sure sounds like QGC is using fracking, including toxic fracking chemicals, for CSG.

      I have no doubt that fracking is expensive. I also have no doubt that it’s used where the money to be made from the resultant gas is expected to justify it. JP Morgan has written a report as part of their Asia Pacific equity research, that includes a table entitled “Chemicals typically used in Australian CSG fraccing fluids”. Why would they go to that effort if no-one fracked CSG wells?

      The same report also states:

      Since 2000 approximately 5% of CSG wells drilled in Queensland have undergone hydraulic fracturing with an estimated 10%-40% of future Queensland CSG wells to undergo some form of hydraulic fracturing over the coming 20 to 30 years.”

      I realise that 5% -40% might not seem much, but bear in mind that apparently there are 40 000 gas wells planned for Qld alone, with many more in NSW.

      Here are some more reports:
      This background note from the Parliamentary Library talks about fracking in the context of CSG.

      From The Conversation: “Shale reservoirs always require fracking, while perhaps only half of coal seam gas reservoirs require fracture stimulation.”

      Reported by the ABC: “A company proposing to drill for coal seam gas (CSG) in Sydney’s inner west has not ruled out using controversial fracking methods to extract the resource.”

      Re: methane

      Yes, methane is naturally-occurring. So are coal and oil. My point is that the word “natural” is misleading because it makes out nice, clean, green, “natural gas” to be in a different category to those “dirty, polluting” fossil fuels like coal and oil. Muesli and shampoo marketers use the same trick – putting “natural” on the label to make their product sound healthier, even though they contain many laboratory or factory–produced compounds.

      As for leaks, that background note from the Parliamentary Library also talks about methane leaks in relation to gas extraction (and in the second paragraph, to CSG gas extraction in Australia):

      A recent analysis of fugitive methane emissions related to shale gas development and production in the USA concluded that when all sources of emissions are taken into consideration, the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is between 20 and 100 per cent greater than that of coal. Emissions range from developmental drilling, to gas extraction, storage, piping and treatment. There is substantial uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the problem, although significant reductions are possible through technical improvements, and legislative requirements. The authors consider that fugitive emissions from shale gas raise questions about the effectiveness of gas as a ‘bridging fuel’ to a new, low-carbon energy sector.

      There appears to be little information on the level of fugitive emissions from CSG development, extraction, storage, transport and processing in Australia. A report by ABC Four Corners has described uncontrolled methane emissions from CSG exploration wells, suggesting that methane leakage is probably a significant issue in Australia, and that improvements in managing fugitive methane emissions are warranted.

      I hope I’ve answered your points. As I said, I really welcome the sort of questions you raised. The waters surrounding CSG are so muddy that I think this is the only way for everyone to sort out what’s what (me included – I had to do extra research for this reply!).

      Thanks for that point about the evaporation ponds being on company land. Do you have a source for that?


  6. john says:

    I posted a response to your article yesterday detailing the misinformation contained within your piece. you have elected not to allow my response to be shown. Why is that ? Because it clearly demonstrated that you are just as guilty of lies and misinformation on the issue of CSG as the proponents you are criticising.

    Just for the record, I have no direct contact with the CSG industry. I am currently doing an internet search to establish the facts concerning it’s benefits and costs to society and the environment. So far I have established that the majority of lies being told are by the opponents to the industry. That does not mean that the proponents are clean. Just that i cannot frimly conclude that they are lying. Your article on the other hand contained a number of ascertions that were clearly in error. It is a shame that you cannot be sufficiently honest with the readers of your blog to own up when you are clearly wrong.

    Just for the

    • Sarah says:

      Hi John,

      Yes, I was a bit tardy in checking comments. As I said, things are a bit crazy around here. See my reply to your first comment above.


  7. Angie says:

    Just found your page…I was at that meeting too.
    The evaporation ( sorry, we call them holding ponds now) ponds at Woodview/Piora are on land owned by the Richmond Valley council, not Metgasco. However, the council environmental officers don’t check them.
    The huge ponds (12 ha or more) are for the planned power station in Casino which will be so close to where people live it’s unbelievable, and on a flood plain.
    It’s great that you have mentioned the difference between coal seam gas and tight sands gas. It is very important that everyone understands that mining tight sands gas is also on Metgasco’s plans…tight gas extends from Kingfisher well in Casino , north to the McKellar range, and will need fracking. Also, coal seam gas wells may not need fracking initially, but may need to be stimulated (fracked) when the gas flow starts to decline.
    As for the misleading info about the size of the gas wells ( chicken coop, or as the recent industry advertisement claims, half a tennis court), the omission of the associated roads, pipelines and compressor stations is another example of a lie by ommission told by this industry. Thankfully we are able to look over the border to established gas fields to see the truth of what they want to do to our region, and to learn of the health impacts to humans and animals that have happened already. Or we can look to the South West to see the impact that “mistakes” like spills are having on the trees in the Piliga forest.
    Your page is great, thanks.

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