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Government bans BTEX use in coal seam gas sector

The Queensland Government has moved to ban petroleum compounds containing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, commonly referred to as BTEX, from use in coal seam gas (CSG) operations or ‘fraccing’.

Minister for Natural Resource Mines and Energy, Stephen Robertson, said the emerging CSG to LNG industry has the potential to generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment for Queensland.

"We want to make sure we strike the right balance between environmental sustainability and economic growth," said Robertson. "I have already sought and received assurances from industry that these chemicals are not currently being used."

The State Government’s expectation is that the current non-use of BTEX chemicals will continue until such times as new legislation is in place.

The Government will use the existing head of power in the Environmental Protection Act 1994 to require the Department of Environment and Resource Management to refuse any application for new coal seam gas activities that involve the use of BTEX chemicals to fracture the coal seam.

The Government will also move to amend the Environmental Protection Act 1994 to include a provision that ‘deems’ a new condition on all existing coal seam gas environmental authorities.

Fraccing involves pumping fluid at high pressure into a coal seam to fracture the seam and allow gas to flow readily into gas wells, although the vast majority of gas wells do not need to be fracced.

In Queensland, fraccing fluids are commonly 99 per cent sand and water. Around 1 per cent is made up of additives: typically widely used chemicals including sodium hypochlorite, hydrochloric acid (both used in swimming pools), cellulose (used to make paper), acetic acid (the active part of vinegar) and small amounts of disinfectants.

It is estimated that since 2000, around five per cent of coal seam gas drilled in Queensland have been fracced, although this proportion is expected to increase as CSG production increases.

CSG companies are required by law to provide daily bore logs to the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) and DEEDI had requested operators to provide it with the results of any fraccing and CSG water ponds sampled to date.

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