FACTS AND FAQS
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: Is there risk of subsidence from CSG wells at Camden?
A:Claims that the CSG industry creates a significant risk of ground subsidence in urban areas due to the extraction of groundwater are incorrect.
AGL understands how this issue may be of concern to the community, however these comments are not supported by the facts.
There has been no evidence of ground subsidence at the Camden Gas project where wells have been drilled and natural gas has been produced for over 10 years.
These findings are consistent with a technical review carried out for AGL on ground subsidence which reported that the potential for subsidence to occur as gas is extracted is almost negligible.
The amount of groundwater extracted by AGL at Camden is negligible - around four mega litres of water a year - which would not even fill two Olympic sized swimming pools.
- Q: What is Coal Seam Gas?
A: Coal seam gas is natural gas found in coal seams, formed as a by-product of the conversion of plant material to coal, and primarily consists of methane, which is an odourless, colourless gas. It is used in the same ways conventional gas is used to power hot water systems, heaters and for a wide range of industrial uses.
- Q: What is an Environmental Assessment?
A: An Environmental Assessment is a formal submission to the Department of Planning. It is the government's way of assessing the project to ensure it meets strict NSW Government standards and that it will not have significant environmental impacts.
An Environmental Assessment is made up of:
- A formal description of the project,
- An assessment of the likely effects of the project on the physical, social and economic environment,
- Identification of measures to be implemented to mitigate impacts,
- An evaluation of alternatives and justification for the project,
- An assessment of the cumulative impacts of the project.
- Q: Are Jeremy Buckingham's claims on Channel 7 News on 30 January 2013 that AGL's operations are polluting the Nepean River true?
A:No, they're not. His claims are false. The day before he made the claims, AGL released a community notification with the facts of the incident. Here are the facts:
- Bubbles seen in the area surrounding AGL's Menangle Park natural gas well site are not methane as claimed. The bubbles are in fact air bubbles and this was confirmed at the time by an independent third party and witnessed by an officer from the NSW EPA
- The pit identified as a "drill mud holding pit" is not and never was a drill pit. The pit was installed by AGL as a stormwater runoff pit as an environmental safeguard designed to capture any rain runoff during the drilling operation. The pit at no stage contained drilling fluids or chemicals. The pit was then emptied of any runoff water after drilling was completed and was filled by the recent rain
- Claims that the earth has been cracked by hydraulic fracturing are false. Besides being technically impossible, AGL has engaged industry experts to undertake comprehensive technical modelling based on the rock mechanics and stress profiles of the Camden area of the Sydney Basin. This report confirms that any hydraulic fractures are contained to the targeted coal seams only which are located about three quarters of a kilometre underground
- All AGL's wells have control features so that they can be shut in remotely. These wells are carefully designed to be safe at all times, even if a well is totally submerged underwater,
- All other equipment that could have created an environmental incident was removed from the site on Monday evening as a precaution prior to the flood event in line with AGL's flood management protocol which was successfully followed
- It's about time the community has more facts about coal seam gas, rather than rely on opinions, speculation and deliberate misinformation
Specialist studies have been undertaken to address a range of environmental issues associated with the proposed works, including an assessment of noise, hazard and risk. AGL anticipates that works within the Camden North project area will start in the first half of 2011, subject to government approval.
- Q: How does AGL operate in the area?
A:AGL operations follow the following procedures:
- Establishment: A compound area is constructed to enable works to take place in a safe, controlled way. Once completed, the area is rehabilitated and reduced to the production footprint.
- Production: When producing gas, our well surface locations are typically less than 20 metres square. They will be designed and landscaped to fit in with the surrounding community and environment and will be as unobtrusive as possible.
- Maintenance: Inspections are routinely undertaken, but major maintenance is usually needed less than once a year.
- Rehabilitation: When the gas has been drained the equipment is removed and the site
- Q: What happened at the Project's Sugarloaf 3 well on 17 May 2011?
A: On 17 May 2011, an AGL gas operations workover team conducted routine maintenance at its Sugarloaf 3 well, located near Campbelltown approximately one kilometre away from the Glen Alpine residential area. The team used water, soap and air to clean sand and coal debris out of the path used by gas and water to flow out of the well. This is a routine well maintenance activity which is carried out every two to four years.
During this maintenance activity, the water, soap and air were circulated down the well to clear debris. The water, soap, air and debris was then returned to the surface to be captured by a tank on the surface. An open top tank with a separator (degasser) was located 15 to 20 metres from the well to capture the returns from the well. The degasser's function is to separate the fluid from the air or gas. The fluid is directed into the tank through a pipe which is connected to the wellhead, while the air and gas are directed up to vent. The separator is a safety device to ensure that gas or air is dispersed and vented to atmosphere reducing the safety hazard. Located between the separator and well is a choke manifold with valves that can be adjusted to manage the flow from the well. In this instance, the degasser was not being operated in a proper and efficient manner. The amount of liquid soap mixed with water in this process varies, but is usually about two to three litres of liquid soap mixed with about 1000 litres of water. Water and air are recovered from the well, captured in a tank via a pipe and not are visible to onlookers. In this instance, the workover crew detected a large amount of produced water in the well, and increased the proportion of soap to lighten the water and increased its flow to the surface. This resulted in excessive foaming that created a visible plume of white soapy mist being released from the degasser.
The workover crew believed the soap foam released was harmless, so no immediate action was taken to stop the release of foam from the top of the degasser. White soapy mist shot upward for two to five minutes and dissipated into the air or fell within 40 metres of the well. Immediately following the incident, AGL took several steps to ensure that no further release occurred during the maintenance activities.
- Q: What has happened now?
A: AGL has acknowledged that the release of a non-toxic soapy mist at its Camden gas project in May was unacceptable to the community.
After carrying out an investigation in conjunction with the Sydney Catchment Authority, the Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Services and Infrastructure and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, the OEH has concluded that "there was no significant harm to the surrounding environment from the emission of foamy liquid," but the maintenance equipment "was not being operated in a proper and efficient manner as required by condition 02 of the Environment Protection Licence."
"OEH has determined that an appropriate regulatory response to this incident is to issue a formal warning to AGL Upstream Investments. The purpose of this letter is to serve as a warning to your company and its employees that environmental performance and statutory compliance must be continually maintained," the OEH said.
AGL Group General Manager Upstream Gas Mike Moraza said AGL accepted the finding and deeply regretted the incident. "As we have said from the outset, this should never have been allowed to happen," Mr Moraza said.
"AGL takes its commitment to safety and the environment very seriously and this incident was clearly a breach of our own very high standards. While we have always been confident that there was no harm to the environment and we welcome OEH's similar conclusion, we understand that incidents like these can cause concern in the community.
"We will heed the warning from the OEH and ensure our employees understand the seriousness of the situation. We have now taken steps to ensure the incident will not be repeated."
In its investigation to determine how the incident happened, AGL found that the soapy mist was released when liquid soap that was being used to clean the well was aerated and not captured in the water storage tank. The work crew were aware that the soap was non-hazardous and non-dangerous and the foam release continued for a period of between three to five minutes.
According to independent analysis performed by ALS Laboratories, the soapy mist caused no impact to the surrounding environment.
Following the incident, AGL voluntarily submitted water and soil samples to the independent laboratory to address any community concerns over the soapy mist release. The analysis of the area surrounding the water storage tank also showed:
- The tank's water quality was typical of produced water;
- No benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene or xylenes (known as BTEX) were present in soil or water samples; and
- Soil salinity and surfactant levels did not increase.
- Q: What actions has AGL taken regarding this incident?
A: Although AGL had no reason to suspect that the incident caused harm to the environment or would have any further impacts on the surrounds, AGL acknowledges that this release was unacceptable, recognises that this should never have been allowed to happen, and understands that incidences like this cause concern in the community. As such, AGL:
- Reported the incident to:
- the Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH);
- the Department of Trade & Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services (DTIRIS);
- the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA);
- the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DOPI) (landowner) whose property hosts the well; and
- Broughton Anglican College (adjoining neighbour)
- Collected soil samples from the deposited area and sent to a NATA accredited laboratory for analysis;
- Collected water samples from the mud tank and sent to a NATA accredited laboratory for analysis;
- Engaged external environmental consultants URS to undertake a soil investigation study;
- Completed an internal investigation into why the foam was discharged;
- Discussed the incident with the Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher;
- Sent a letter and hosted a Camden Gas Project site visit to MP Jeremy Buckingham, MLC; and
- Communicated details of the incident at its operational safety meeting and reemphasised its "Step Back Policy" which gives anyone on an AGL site the authority to stop an activity that he or she deems unsafe or environmentally unacceptable
- Reported the incident to:
- Q: What was the environmental impact of the sugarloaf incident?
A: Results from the URS Soil Investigation Report concluded that:
- The analytical results indicate that there is no evidence that the release of foam has caused adverse environmental impacts on the immediate vicinity of the release area; and
- URS also consider it is unlikely that the release of foam would have carried to SCA's water storage dam located down slope of the release area.
- Q: How will this incident be prevented from reccurring?
A: AGL has taken steps to ensure the incident should not be repeated:
- Modifications were made to the degasser, installing a bypass that will accommodate the flowback of the soap foam into the mud tank.
- AGL Senior leaders have communicated with all field based employees and contractors, the importance of ensuring AGL activities do not have any visual impact on the community. Work Procedures are being updated to reflect the modified degasser and choke back requirements.
- Work Procedures are being updated to limit and specify the volumes of soap to be used when cleaning a well.
- Non non-hazardous, non dangerous goods defoamer will be used on all future workovers to ensure foam is not blown from the mud tank.
Throughout the investigation, AGL has cooperated with all government agencies, external stakeholders, and the community.
A link to the OEH warning letter dated 4 August 2011 is provided below:
- Q: What remains after exploration is completed?
A: Following the drilling of each exploration borehole, each location will be partially rehabilitated to stabilise and prevent erosion and dust hazards. Rehabilitation of the exploration boreholes will be finalised in consideration of any further proposed activities at these locations, in consultation with landowners.
The following activities will be employed for the initial rehabilitation of each location:
- Each Borehole will be fully grouted with a cement-bentonite mixture as per the DII guidelines;
- Plant and equipment will be completely removed from each location;
- Drill pits will be temporarily backfilled with stockpiled sub-soils to stabalise erosion and comply with OH&S requirements;
- Topsoil will be pushed back over exposed areas of ground (where appropriate) and an appropriate re-seeding of sterile cover crop should be planted to reduce dust issues and site erosion. This should be undertaken in consultation with the property owner/ land manager; and,
- The compound fence at each location will remain until the completion of proposed production wells.
At the completion of all activities at each location, full site rehabilitation, as per the EMS will be undertaken. Rehabilitation of both locations and access tracks will aim to return each site to a state as good as or better than when operations began.
- Q: What is the Plug and Abandon Process?
A: The plug and abandon process is to ensure there is no vertical migration of fluids between different water sources in the strata. Here's how it works:
- The steel casing is cut off 1.5 metres below ground;
- A pipe is lowered to the bottom of the steel and concrete lined hole;
- Concrete grout is pumped through the pipe which is slowly lifted as the hole fills;
- A metal identification plate is welded to the top of the casing; and
- The hole is filled with soil and the area restored to its original contour and seeded to ensure proper plant coverage.
- Q: Does AGL "frac"?
A: AGL uses the process of fracturing (aka "fraccing") to stimulate the flow of gas.
Hydraulic fracturing is a well established, tightly regulated technology, which has been used safely for more than 50 years.
It is a process that increases a gas well's productivity by creating a pathway into the coal seam.
The process involves injecting sand and fluids directly into the targeted coal seam. As the rate of injection increases, the pressure of the fluid creates stress in the coal seam until the coal fractures.
The addition of sand ensures that the pathway does not close. The fracture creates a pathway for gas and water to flow out of the coal seam to the wellbore allowing higher rates of gas production.
The fracturing process may also reduce the number of wells required to produce viable gas reserves.
- Fact Sheets
Water and the Camden Gas Project
Water and the Camden Gas Project Diagram