Gas plays an essential role in providing affordable, secure and reliable electricity for Australians. We need the best available evidence and data to respond to community concerns about the potential environmental and social impacts associated with unconventional gas extraction. The ideas of the Australian Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel in his independent review in to the future of the national electricity market reflect the challenges facing the onshore gas sector.
Dr Finkel’s comments in his report, released this month, also cut to the heart of the purpose of the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA). Our aim is to provide quality assured scientific research and information to communities living in gas development regions focusing on social and environmental topics. This blueprint provides opportunities for GISERA to help make a difference in this area of national priority.
This newsletter offers an insight into a range of the latest projects now underway within GISERA, including human health impacts of coal seam gas (CSG), and other work underway in New South Wales and Queensland.
Throughout the next six months our NSW projects are expected to start providing draft results and among them is a scoping study to investigate the human health impacts of CSG. The scoping study involves reviewing current knowledge and gaining expert advice to design a study into potential health impacts from CSG activities.
Meanwhile, a commitment of $4 million from the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science aims to support expansion of the GISERA nationally. The funding contribution provides an opportunity to develop robust science and community engagement across new states and territories. We look forward to sharing more details shortly.
GISERA’s portfolio of Queensland research has reported many outputs over the past six months, with our Economic assessment and forecasting project developing an animation and communique to provide information and ideas to help regional businesses deal with the rollercoaster of change generated by development of the CSG industry, including forecast of indirect jobs over the next 20 years in the Western Downs region of Queensland.
In other Queensland research, scientists have been in the field during April gathering information for our Constraining water flows in the Surat Basin project. The field work involves gathering water samples from bores and using a variety of tracers to study different aspects of groundwater flow and groundwater mixing in the aquifers which the bores are accessing. This project has also produced a factsheet for landowners involved in the study.
Finally, we have launched our updated GISERA web presence at: www.gisera.org.au. Make sure you visit the site and give us your feedback!
Below is a list of the new projects which have been approved by the NSW or QLD Regional Research Advisory Committee in the past six months:
A three-day expert working group meeting from May 22 to 24, has provided important information for GISERA’s human health impacts on CSG project which is investigating potential designs of a future study.
The purpose of the workshop was to share information and insights from a range of health and technical experts on the elements needed in a study of the potential human exposures, health risks and potential health effects of CSG activities.
The workshop was attended by 36 participants from research and government organisations including CSIRO, Queensland Government, NSW Government and several universities. The dynamic agenda for the workshop saw a mixture of plenary and group discussions on various topics including: exploring stakeholder perspectives; factors to consider to ensure study outcomes are relevant to and accepted by community and other stakeholders; hazard Identification; non-chemical stressors; risk assessment and health study approaches and methodologies.
This workshop is one of a series of activities the project team is using to gather information that will be used to formulate studies to investigate the potential health impacts of CSG activity. Other activities include a review of the state of knowledge about health impacts of CSG activity, identification of gaps in the knowledge base, and wider consultation.
Feedback from the Brisbane workshop will help inform the study design, along with a literature review to provide a current picture of the state of knowledge and identification of knowledge gaps regarding potential contaminants and human health risks.
Input into the study design will also be sought from community, industry, and government stakeholders. Over a six-week period, from mid-July until the end of August, the project team will be taking the draft study design out to these stakeholders and seeking their feedback and further input.
The project team of eight researchers includes CSIRO scientists and members of the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS), incorporating the former National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology (Entox) from the University of Queensland, and researchers from the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland’s Centre for Coal Seam Gas.
The project is responding to the ongoing concerns raised in some communities about possible health effects related to CSG and is due for completion later this year.
This project is an intensive monitoring campaign that will measure the air, water and soil impacts of hydraulic fracturing of production wells in the Surat Basin. This will provide a current state of knowledge regarding sources of air, water and soil pollutants associated with CSG extraction using hydraulic fracturing, and the study design to provide enhanced information of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
In addition, the Groundwater contamination risk assessment project assesses the likelihood of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing and wellbore damage at a basin/sub-basin scale. This research will help management plans and strategies to reduce the risk of surface and groundwater contamination and provide communities a better understanding of potential impacts to local water resources.
In the greenhouse gas and air quality research area, the Methane seepage in the Surat Basin project released its phase 3.1 report, which provides interim monitoring results of the continuous monitors, as well as information about the installation, commission and operation of the monitors. Similarly the Regional methane emissions in NSW CSG basin project has released an interim results report on the identification and quantification of the main methane sources within the Pilliga/Narrabri region in April 2017.
The Ambient air quality in the Surat Basin project is moving into the next phase of the project, and has released the study design which includes background information and expectations of outputs of the next phase.
The Telling the story project has released its final report. This project developed a means of telling the story of changes in rural areas before CSG and during the development and production phases. This message was constructed through the development of detailed landscape change maps, survey findings, and a series of communication tools that were used at local agricultural shows.
Our newest agricultural project is Inside the herd, which monitoring grazing land with CSG infrastructure to better understand the impacts of CSG infrastructure, traffic and dust on animals and pastures.
In the last newsletter, we shared the results of the Community functioning and wellbeing survey 2 conducted in QLD. A communique to summarise these results is now available. A similar project is now being under taken in NSW the Social baseline assessment of the Narrabri region of NSW in relation to CSG development project, which has released the Phase 1; planning and preparation report. This work aims to understand and measure attitudes, perceptions and expectations that exist within the community with respect to CSG development, and current levels of community wellbeing and community resilience.
The marine project was completed in 2015 and no further projects have been developed.
Our latest project for the terrestrial biodiversity area is the Guidelines for offset population sizes, for which we held a workshop in Brisbane earlier this year. This research will improve the understanding of how ecological and biological traits of rare species of plants, commonly encountered in restoration projects, and different environmental factors, determine viable population sizes. Using computer models the aim is to produce evidence-based guidelines for the size of plant populations needed to maximise establishment and persistence of rare plant species.