Origin Energy says it has monitored the bubbling water since 2015, along with other seep locations
Ben Smee @BenSmeeSat 15 Apr 2023 01.00 AEST A new video showing Queensland’s Condamine River “bubbling like a boiling broth” has raised the alarm that methane seeps into the waterway are more widespread than previously revealed, amid the continued ramp-up of coal-seam gas drilling in the Darling Downs. The footage, released on Saturday by environmental group Lock the Gate, shows large methane gas bubbles active on the surface of the river. The group says the phenomenon was filmed at a section of the river more than 1km from where similar bubbles have been observed since 2012, prompting a decade of scientific investigation. A viral 2016 video showed the river – which is in the headwaters of the Murray-Darling system – being set on fire with a barbecue lighter. It is understood the site shown in the new footage is extremely difficult to access. The existence of gas bubbles at the location was not previously publicly known, including among some local farmers and anti-fracking activists who claim video of the gas seep is “disturbing” and amounts to evidence that the issue is intensifying and spreading. Origin Energy, the operator of the Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG) joint venture, said in a statement that the location shown in the video was a “known seep since 2015” and the company had monitored it since.
Origin said it had “engaged locally with landowners and stakeholders”, but does not appear to have made any public disclosure about a significant seep at the location. Scientific studies, including by the CSIRO, have found that bubbles on the Condamine are naturally occurring and unlikely the direct result of fracking, but that CSG production might affect the intensity of the phenomenon. A 2021 report commissioned by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said gas escape might have been “enhanced” by CSG production about 1km away. The same study also cited reports by APLNG, which says mitigation measures are “working” and have had “a positive impact in significantly reducing the seeps”. Dayne Pratzky, who first raised alarm about gas seeps in the Condamine a decade ago, said he was concerned that more had likely occurred in other places across the Darling Downs, a region in which the gas industry has drilled thousands of wells and continues to expand. “New areas of the river are now bubbling like a boiling broth, much closer to the Chinchilla Weir than impacted areas of the river first identified about a decade ago,” Pratzky said. “What’s really concerning is the seeps that we can’t see. We only know about the Condamine River seeps because the bubbles are visible in the water. I’d bet my hat on there being much more intense seeps all across the gasfields.” Ellie Smith, the Queensland coordinator of Lock the Gate, said the discovery showed the true extent of fugitive emissions from gasfields was not properly understood. She said this had “major implications” for the recent safeguard mechanism deal. “The safeguard mechanism will require emitters to reduce their net direct emissions year on year,” Smith said. “But this will be extremely difficult to monitor and enforce when gas activity increases the rate of methane coming out of the ground in areas beyond the immediate gasfield.” River on fire in Greens MP's video is natural, not fracking, says CSIRO Read moreAPLNG says on its website that it has successfully mitigated the gas seeps by building production wells to extract shallow gas migrating toward natural geological faults. The company says it has a “robust, ongoing program of research into the seeps”, including monitoring bores and other studies. It says gas flow measurements at the main seep site have reduced significantly over time. In a statement in response to the new video, Origin said it has continued to monitor known seeps locations. The company said it had “recently brought online several intercept wells and related infrastructure that were offline for a period”. “Our experience indicates seep volumes typically decline over time as these wells come online,” the Origin statement says. “Previous reports and studies by independent agencies have also identified no gas safety risk nor environmental harm.”