Coal Seam Gas Production and Implications for Livestock
Coal Seam Gas (CSG) production involves sinking wells into coal seams where natural gas, primarily methane, is trapped by high pressure water. The extraction process involves “dewatering” seams by pumping water to the surface to release the pressure and allow gases to flow. A separator at the well head directs the produced water, which can be high in salt content, into pipes to holding or treatment facilities, while the extracted gas is piped to storage and compressor stations.
Landholders have expressed concerns about the potential for deep CSG wells that pass through multiple freshwater and geological formations to drain or contaminate interconnected freshwater aquifers that are relied upon for drinking water, stock water and irrigation.
Reports to date in relation to CSG have provided no evidence of a food safety risk or that livestock have been exposed to contaminants resulting in food safety concerns.
CSG fraccing fluids containing compounds of concern (benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene) have now been banned in Queensland and NSW, however these compounds are known to occur naturally in petroleum deposits.
As members of Livestock Production Assurance (LPA), producers are responsible for undertaking a property risk assessment to ensure they are aware of any potential areas of contamination, and take appropriate management steps to avoid the risks (this could include excluding stock from risk areas if necessary). Where circumstances change, it is the producer’s responsibility to update the property risk assessment.
The LPA National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is used to identify the origins of stock and obtain declarations from producers about a range of issues relating to animal treatments, feedstuffs and the environment which are designed to ensure consumer interests and the industry’s reputation as a producer of safe red meat are protected.
If a producer is concerned about the risk of contaminated water, the producer should raise the matter with the State mining regulator and ask it to investigate. If there is an issue of residue concern, the mining regulator should then pass it on to State agriculture department for decision on any steps needed to manage the risk. This may include advice back to the producer on what to disclose on the NVD.
In the event that any concerns are raised by environment protection agencies, or state agriculture departments, SAFEMEAT has a range of measures which it could initiate to monitor livestock which may have been exposed to such risks (measures include traceability systems, residue monitoring programs and assignment of statuses).
Safemeat recommends producers get water testing carried out prior to commencement of drilling for CSG on their property or in their area.
Producers negotiating a land access agreement with a CSG or other mining operator should seek advice from a solicitor experienced in land access matters and their State Farming Organisation. The principles for negotiating coexistence arrangements report is a useful resource for producers negotiating land access.