UOW engineers drill to heart of sustainable gas production
Australia’s annual gas production is expected to exceed 100 billion cubic metres by 2020, yet there is a large gap in knowledge about balancing economic needs of gas extraction and environmental sustainability.
The University of Wollongong’s School of Civil, Mining and Environmental Engineering will today (Friday 21 February) host a one-day Workshop on Unconventional Gas where scientists and engineers from research and industry will meet to hear the latest research and innovations in gas extraction as well as provide a forum for discussion around tackling economic, environmental and social concerns.
Australia has a rich resource of underground gas that could meet growing energy demands and provide a source of cleaner energy.
Worldwide, gas is one of the largest energy resources, alongside coal and uranium, and unconventional gasses are likely to form part of Australia’s energy supply as part of a move to low-emission and sustainable future.
Gas production in Australia is predicted to increase from 49 billion cubic metres in 2010 to 102 billion cubic metres in 2020.
Unconventional gasses are those that are stored in complex underground geological systems, such as coal seams and rock beds, and have greater costs, technical difficulty and environmental issues associated with their extraction.
CME Head of School Associate Professor Alex Remennikov said there was a great interest in unconventional gas but the school had identified that more research was needed to balance meeting energy needs with environmental and economic sustainability.
Current methods of extracting gas include fracturing rock beds with high-pressure water and drilling for coal seam gas but this is causing concern in some communities about the environmental impact particularly on underground water aquifers.
“We need more data and additional research to ensure that the impact of the industry is minimal and that any potential difficulties can be adequately remediated so that the industry and the community can move forward confident in the knowledge that resilient systems are in place,” Professor Remennikov said.
“Gas is also very important to local industry and a reliable, sustainable supply of gas would create real economic opportunities and jobs in the Illawarra.”
Dr John Bradd, Senior Research Fellow and Principal Hydrogeologist at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the time had come for “truly independent scientific research and monitoring programs” driven by academic institutions to better understand and inform about the impacts of gas extraction.
"There is an extreme lack of independent research and hard data when it comes to examining potential ‘leakage’ between aquifers, whether through naturally porous rock or natural fractures of fractures from drilling,” Dr Bradd said.
“We need to first research and model the existing underground water flows and rock permeability. This will give us a more realistic picture of aquifer impacts and the subsequent surface environment impacts.
“At the University of Wollongong, we are undertaking the first steps in researching these aspects."
The workshop follows the completion of a report by members of UOW’s GeoQuEST Research Centre on the potential impacts of coal and gas extraction for the Sydney, Nepean and Southern catchment authorities in 2012, which highlighted the gaps in knowledge and need for more research into this rapidly growing industry.
Note to media: The Workshop on Unconventional Gas will be held from 9am to 3pm on Friday 21 February at the SMART Infrastructure Facility, University of Wollongong.
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