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Opposition grows to coal-seam gas drilling in Australia's farmlands

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Farmer Clive Duddy sits in front of an access gate to a neighboring property, owned by coal seam gas miner Santos, during a blockade of the property by local landholders near Spring Ridge, 290 km (180 miles) north of Sydney, Australia on November 2. With a surge of popular support for measures ranging from more regulation to an outright ban on drilling, the coal-seam gas industry, an industry spreading rapidly across the Australian landscape, faces the prospect of project delays, higher costs and even blockades that have already succeeded in delaying drilling. Picture taken November 2.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Coal seam gas wells stand in formation on a property near Cecil Plains, 180 km (112 miles) west of Brisbane on October 31.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

A facility for holding water pumped from underground during coal-seam gas mining is lined with black plastic before use on a property near Cecil Plains, 180 km (112 miles) west of Brisbane, on October 31.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Freshly cut wheat stands under approaching storm clouds on a property owned by farmer Scott Wason near Roma, 430 km (267 miles) west of Brisbane, October 29. Farmers contend that the coal-seam industry puts additional stress on the local aquifers.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Farmer Scott Wason holds a stalk of wheat during the harvest on his property near Roma, 430 km (267 miles) west of Brisbane, October 29.

 From Reuters:


Nov 16 (Reuters) - Australia's coal seam gas industry is expected to grow into an $80 billion enterprise as demand for gas, particularly in Asia, drives rapid growth in the industry.  

Here are some frequently asked questions about the coal seam gas industry:


Coal-seam gas production evolved from coal mining, where the gas trapped in coal seams can still be a hazard to miners -- and the reason for the proverbial "canary in the coal mine".

The largest coal-seam gas resources are in Canada, Russia, China, Australia and the United States, in order of potential size, according to the International Energy Agency. Coal-seam gas is also known as coalbed methane, coal-seam methane, and coal-mine methane.


 Coal-seam gas exploration began in 1976, but the first commercially viable well only came online two decades later in 1998. Australia has about 250 trillion cubic feet of coal-seam gas reserves, enough to power a city of one million people for 5,000 years, according to industry estimates.


 Australia's coal-seam gas resources are concentrated on its eastern seaboard, with around $45 billion in projects already underway in Queensland state to turn coal-seam gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export.

 Queensland Gas Company, a unit of BG Group, Santos , and Origin are heading up these projects, which are expected to come online around 2015 and cost about $15 billion each. Arrow LNG, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina, also has a project on the drawing board. Several companies including Santos and AGL have operations in the state of New South Wales, but no major export projects have emerged there yet.


 Coal-seam gas production involves pumping large amounts of water out of the ground to release gas trapped in coal seams, which can impact water-table levels. Opponents say the process could impact important Australian farming areas.

 Coal-seam gas resources intersect with the Great Artesian Basin. One of the largest underground water reservoirs in the world, it straddles three Australian states and has been crucial in providing water to the country's sheep and cattle industry.

 Another concern is a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting large amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into coal seams to free trapped gas.

 The process, also known as "fracking," is used on about 8 percent of coal-seam gas wells in Queensland, although that will likely increase to 25 to 40 percent of wells as they age and the gas becomes more difficult to extract, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

 Opponents say fracking could pollute groundwater beneath prime agricultural land, but the industry says safety precautions mean that water quality will not be impacted and that the industry can co-exist with farmers.

 Critics of the industry have also said extensive dredging required to build the LNG export plants could harm marine life and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

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 As reported on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams, similar debates over fracking are occuring in North Dakota’s booming Bakken gas field:

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