Techno-fixes and micro-management needed to make CSG ‘safe’

The NSW chief scientist’s report on CSG was released late last night so it was difficult for our concerns to get a run in the media. The overall message of the report is that there is still so much we don’t know, yet everything has risks but fear not, new technology will save us ! Although the report does acknowledge unintended impacts from CSG accidents, human error and natural disasters which will require adequate insurance mechanisms.

The report accepts there is a need to better understand the risks of pollution and environmental damage from CSG, particularly the cumulative risks and risks over time as well as the cost of mitigation and/or remediation eg to manage abandoned wells ….but then it concludes that – “provided drilling is allowed only in areas where the geology and hydrogeology can be characterised adequately, and provided that appropriate engineering and scientific solutions are in place to manage the storage, transport, reuse or disposal of produced water and salts – the risks associated with CSG exploration and production can be managed.”

While some of the supporting documents highlight the problem of disposal of treatment concentrates and the growing problem of the management of produced water, these issues appear to be simply ignored in what can only be described as an exercise in wishful thinking, i.e. undefined new technologies will solve all problems.

There is no mention of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing not having been assessed or the sheer tonnage of chemicals released into the environment. There is no consideration of the unassessed mixtures of chemicals and contaminants and/or their unknown interactions. There is no mention of the extraordinary amounts of air pollution being released by the industry which is growing (according to the NPI) dramatically each year.

And while there is good review of possible health effects in the supporting Vaneckova & Bambrick document, these are not reflected or considered in the Chief Scientists’ report.

All in all, this is a wasted opportunity but it does provide many of us with the argument that unless we have adequate information to fully define the risks, ‘appropriate engineering and scientific solutions are in place’ and any new technologies are proven and tested then the report clearly demonstrates that CSG is not safe.

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