Oral Presentation NCGRT/IAH Australasian Groundwater Conference 2019

Water impacts from unconventional gas development: more than just fracking (68)

Margaret Shanafield 1 , Peter G. Cook 1 , Craig T. Simmons 1
  1. Flinders University, Bedford Park, SA, Australia

Development of unconventional gas resources in Australia has risen exponentially since the 1990’s. However, this industry can be considered still in its infancy in Australia, compared to the relatively mature state of technology, regulation, and public opinion that has been reached in other parts of the world. This discrepancy becomes apparent when considering that public concern mainly focuses on the use of fracking despite the fact that this concern does not align with our best scientific understanding of the most probable risks to water resources from unconventional gas development.  According to our review (Shanafield et al. 2018) of the likelihood of water resources impacts, combining empirical and first principles analysis, the greatest immediate risk is from surface spills at the wellhead; yet, this risk receives little attention. Our analysis shows that the risk of surface spills is 1 in 10, and 1 in 100 for contamination of groundwater from a surface spill- this is a risk we should have better technical and engineering control over as well as regulation for. Further, we do not have a national view, strategy or position on unconventional gas development. For example, a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing was put in place for part of South Australia as the ban on fracking in the Northern Territory was lifted. Finally, we must consider that there is a lot more to this matter than just science; for example, gaining a social license to operate means that science is necessary but insufficient. This broader concern is often overlooked in the debate on unconventional gas development. Therefore, in this presentation, we suggest a whole-of-cycle perspective on unconventional gas production in which every risk in all phases of the production cycle are put into broader context and perspective to achieve social, economic and environmental triple bottom lines.

  1. Shanafield, M., Cook, P. G., & Simmons, C. T. (2018). Towards Quantifying the Likelihood of Water Resource Impacts from Unconventional Gas Development. Groundwater.