Sunday, 17 January 2016

Natural Gas & Coal Seam Gas: A lesson in consequences for Australian federal and state governments

When gas mining went wrong on a large scale in America..........

LA Times, 6 January 2016:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered new regulations, including stepped-up inspections and safety measures, for all natural gas storage facilities in California in response to the continuing leak that has displaced thousands of people in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The emergency regulations would require Southern California Gas Co. and other operators of gas storage facilities to conduct daily inspections of wellheads using infrared leak-detection technology, verify the mechanical integrity of wells, measure gas flow and pressure and regularly test safety valves, among other steps.

Each facility would also have to draft a risk management plan that would examine the corrosion potential of pipes and other safety threats.

The requirements are part of a series of orders issued by Brown as he declared a state of emergency stemming from a leaking well at SoCal Gas' storage facility in Aliso Canyon. For more than 10 weeks a damaged well has released large amounts of planet-warming methane and emitted sulfur-like odors that have sickened residents with nosebleeds, headaches and other symptoms.

Brown's action came after weeks of demands by residents, activists and local officials for the governor to intervene. In the proclamation, Brown cited the “prolonged and continuing duration of this natural gas leak and the request by residents and local officials for a declaration of emergency.”

The governor ordered state agencies to “utilize all necessary state personnel, equipment, and facilities to ensure a continuous and thorough response to this incident.” Unlike with most emergency proclamations, however, he did not suspend state laws, cut red tape or commit more resources or public funds to address the leak.

Brown contends that SoCal Gas should bear all related expenses from the leak. He tasked the California Public Utilities Commission with ensuring that the gas company “cover costs related to the natural gas leak and its response, while protecting ratepayers.”

Evan Westrup, a governor's spokesman, noted that the proclamation does allow the governor to waive state laws if necessary in the future.

The new regulations will apply to a dozen natural gas storage fields across nine counties, according to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which will issue the new rules.

When gas mining went wrong on a large scale in Australia……

ABC News, 10 August 2015:

A study commissioned by Queensland's environment department says an experimental plant operated by mining company Linc Energy at Chinchilla, west of Brisbane, is to blame and has already caused "irreversible" damage to strategic cropping land.
The department, which has launched a $6.5 million criminal prosecution of the company, alleges Linc is responsible for "gross interference" to the health and wellbeing of former workers at the plant as well as "serious environmental harm".
The 335-page experts' report, obtained by the ABC, has been disclosed to Linc but not to landholders.
It says gases released by Linc's activities at its underground coal gasification plant at Hopeland have caused the permanent acidification of the soil near the site.
Experts also found concentrations of hydrogen in the soil at explosive levels and abnormal amounts of methane, which they say is being artificially generated underground, over a wide area.
Other documents, released to the ABC by the magistrate in charge of the criminal case, show four departmental investigators were hospitalised with suspected gas poisoning during soil testing at the site in March.
"My nausea lasted for several hours. I was also informed by the treating doctor that my blood tests showed elevated carbon monoxide levels (above what was normal)," one of the investigators said.
High levels of cancer-causing benzene were detected at the site afterwards.
Earlier this year the State Government imposed an "excavation exclusion zone" on 314 square kilometres around the Linc facility where landholders are banned from digging any hole deeper than two metres.

ABC News, 10 June 2015:
The Queensland Government has widened its legal action against resources company Linc Energy over the alleged contamination of the environment by its underground gas plant on the Darling Downs in the state's south-east.
The Government has today filed a fifth charge of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm against the company.
An investigation — the largest and most protracted in the history of the Queensland Environment Department — has found that Linc Energy's Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) plant at Hopeland caused irreversible damage "to more than one environmental receptor [which includes the atmosphere, vegetation, water and soil]".
UCG is a so-called "unconventional" means of extracting gas from coal seams that are too deep to mine.
Coal is burned in situ underground and the gas produced is siphoned off through wells.
The ABC has been told that external experts contracted by the department found "scientific evidence of [the plant's] operation above hydrostatic pressure, fracturing the landform, and excursion of contaminants"……
Queensland's Environment Minister Steven Miles is travelling to the western Darling Downs to meet with affected landholders and to explain what the latest charge means.
"This is probably the biggest investigation of its kind in Australian history, we've had upwards of 100 technical officers in Chinchilla monitoring sites and measuring this pollution, it's a very serious matter," he said.
"Our next biggest concern is the impact that this pollution could have on the livelihoods and on the wellbeing of the landholders in the area nearby Linc…..

Chief Executive Administering the Environmental Protection Act 1994 & Anor v Linc Energy Ltd [2015] QCA 197 (16 October 2015) [24%]
(From Supreme Court of Queensland - Court of Appeal; 16 October 2015; 74 KB)

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