Coalbed Methane in Queensland – a cautionary tale

Mr Rees-Mogg MP recently posed the question (Chew Valley Gazette, Feb 2014) as to what impact an unconventional gas “well head” might be on the Chew Valley countryside? By “well head” he presumably means a solitary test well. The Chew Valley is covered by two exploration and development licenses so there could be two exploration wells. If successful exploration may lead to development. The development of coalbed methane¬†(known as coalseam gas in Australia) in the Kumbarilla state forest in Queensland will have started with a similar single exploration well. What happened next?

In 2003 the Tipton West gas field didn’t exist, by 2006 Arrow Energy was producing electricity in gas fired power stations fed by coalbed methane. The Landsat 7 satellite image, below left, shows a 20km x 45km area around the Kumbarilla state forest, between Tara and Dalby, in September 2003. Click on it to zoom in. At this time there were no gas wells.

Kumbarilla State Forest, Landsat 7, 2003.

Kumbarilla State Forest, Landsat 7, 2003.

Kumbarilla State Forest

Kumbarilla State Forest

The dark blocks in the image are bush/forest and the lighter areas bare soil, roads and crops. In the north east is an area of agricultural production. This is a similar size to the Somerset licence area which is 20km wide and 35km deep.

By December 2013 about 625 gas wells have been developed in this area alone. There are also many kilometres of access roads, high pressure gas pipelines, water pipelines, an open cast coal mine and a number of gas fired power stations. See the December 2013 satellite image below left.

Kumbarilla State Forest, Landsat 8, 2013.

Kumbarilla State Forest, Landsat 8, 2013.

High Pressure Gas Pipeline

Kumbarilla State Forest

That’s not it, there are more gas wells beyond the bounds of the image and that little sign at the side of the road says “Warning High Pressure Gas Pipeline”. The entire landscape has been industrialised.

Warning

Warning

That is scale of industrialisation that comes with a CBM gas field but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Mr Rees-Mogg also says that “there have been no recent problems as the industry has developed”. Well, this gas field has experienced blow outs, flares burning for months on end, exploration wells on fire which can’t be put out, gas bubbling up through the ground, health impacts, etc, etc.

All this will have started with just one test well. Fully exploiting the gas resource, which is what the gas companies obviously want to do, involves dozens or hundreds of wells, not one. In comparison with the Kumbarilla/Tara/Dalby Somerset is a highly populated place.


The wisdom of putting more than 650+ gas wells and open flares in a fire adapted forest ecosystem is a question for the Queensland state government. What could possibly go wrong?

Kumbarilla Fire, 2012

Kumbarilla Fire, Dec 2012.
Queensland Fire & Emergency Service

The Chronicle – Bushfire burns in Kumbarilla State Forest near Dalby

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