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Coal seam gas mining in
Australia: an adaptive future
I n particular, the absence of effective consultative and
access entitlements for affected land-owners, the lack
of statutorily endorsed standards of behaviour and the
lack of rigorous environmental controls have contributed to
community con ict and geopolitical controversy. These issues
can only be properly resolved through the enactment of a
detailed, responsive, industry-speci c regulatory framework.
What is coal seam gas?
Coal seam gas is an unconventional form of natural gas that
is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world.
Global production for natural gas is expected to double by
2030, particularly in the developing economies of Asia, Africa
and Latin America.
Coal seam gas, also known as coal bed methane, is a
pure, natural methane gas that is formed over millions of
years. It resides deep within coal seams and coexists within
coal formations. The gas can migrate to other associated rock
formations; however, it primarily remains in the pores and
fractures of coal.
In the early 1900s, coal miners regarded coal seam gas as
an expensive nuisance, as it was highly explosive and needed
to be ventilated out for the protection of the coal miners.
Apart from a few isolated exceptions, the commercial potential
of coal seam gas only started to gain momentum in the United
States following the energy crisis of the early 1970s.
The crisis helped to generate research funds for the
further exploration of unconventional sources of gas
production. This funding resulted in the development and
accumulation of scienti c and engineering knowledge. Within
this environment, the possibility of extracting gas trapped
within rock and coal seams for commercial purposes started
to gain traction.
Extraction and production
The expansion of the CSG industry in Australia is a result
of a number of key factors. Foremost amongst these is
our increased scienti c knowledge about the capacity of
coal as a reservoir for natural gas. This science has been
complemented by technological advancements in extraction
and transportation methods. For example, improvements
in the strength and structure of long-distance transmission
pipelines have signi cantly improved the economics of natural
Further, and perhaps most signi cantly for Australia, the
industry has been bolstered by the discovery of signi cant
reserves, particularly in eastern Australia within the Bowen
and Surat basins in Queensland, and the Sydney, Gunnedah,
Clarence-Moreton and Gloucester basins in New South Wales.
Exploration is also being undertaken in other coal basins,
including the Galilee, Arckaringa, Perth and Pedirka basins.
The clean and plentiful status of this gas has captured
the attention of an emerging green economy. For example,
in 2000, the Queensland Government issued a mandate
requiring 13 per cent of all power supplied to the state
electricity grid to be generated by gas by the year 2005. This
requirement increased to 15 per cent by 2010, and is to
increase to 18 per cent by 2020.
The process of extracting coal seam gas differs
substantially from the methods utilised for the extraction
of conventional hydrocarbons. In conventional hydrocarbon
reservoirs, gas overlies oil and both are adjacent to sub-
surface water aquifers. In this context, gas is extracted via a
process of selected drilling, speci cally aimed at reducing the
production of water.
In contrast, the production of coal seam gas requires
the actual removal of underground water because the water
permeates the coal seams and the water pressure traps any
coal seam gas that is present. The removal of underground
water is necessary to decrease the pressure on the coal,
thereby allowing the gas to escape the con nes of the coal in
which it is situated and ow into the well bore.
The extraction and production of coal seam gas has
generated a number of social and environmental concerns.
These concerns have been exacerbated by the hazardous
practices adopted by many of the early explorers. This has,
unfortunately, generated widespread community fear and
distrust in the industry.
One of the most obvious dangers connected with the process
of extracting coal seam gas is the possibility that extracted
gas might leak from improperly sealed cases. To minimise
this possibility, all existing gas-producing drills have several
concentric layers of steel casing, each of which is cemented
back to the surface. This cement reinforcement helps to
stop gas from leaking out of the producing well and it also
prevents the steel casing from being corroded by acidic mine
water. Further, the casing prevents the shallow groundwater
from invading the wells, thereby assisting with the
preservation of water supplies and the promotion of hydro-
The coal seam gas (CSG) industry in Australia has grown rapidly over the past two decades,
driven by growth in domestic and international demand; however, the rapid expansion of
the CSG industry in Australia has been frustrated by the failure of the regulatory framework
to properly address core resource management issues.
BY SAMANTHA HEPBURN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, FACULTY OF BUSINESS
AND LAW, DEAKIN UNIVERSITY
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