QUEENSLAND could have its own shale gas industry within two years, the State Government says. Government briefing notes for Environment Minister Andrew Powell show there are 16 shale gas exploration programs in the state.
But it warns any development would need numerous wells and an extensive expansion of the gas pipeline network to be viable. It would also use the controversial process known as fracking, which will put the fledgling industry on course for a battle with environmentalists.
The departmental briefing said the extraction of gas "can mobilise naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) into water extracted from the well".
It said NORMs were limited in Australian geology but the issue would need monitoring by the companies involved.
The main areas for exploration are the Cooper, Galilee, Eromanga and Maryborough basins. The Cooper Basin is already well developed and is considered the most likely to have the infrastructure to handle the development.
The Maryborough Basin may be the most difficult, with a growing concern among the community to coal and gas development. Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer are exploring for coal in the district.
"Operators have advised that up-scale and production (of shale gas) will likely commence in 2015," the ministerial briefing note said.
It said the process used would drill as deep as 2000m, which "significantly reduces risks of interconnectivity with aquifers".
It said up to 16 million litres would be needed for one well, compared with the 1 million used by CSG. However, most shale gas wells are dry and do not harvest the levels of groundwater CSG wells do.
An APPEA spokesman said similar to the production of natural gas from coal, any water sourced could potentially be re-injected underground or used to drought-proof regional Queensland properties. But, according to the State Government, exploration "is occurring in basins where water availability is limited".
Anti-CSG activist Drew Hutton said the American experience showed there were strong community concerns with shale gas, especially with the impact of fracking.
He said his organisation, Lock the Gate, had the same concerns with shale gas as it did with CSG, including its potential health impacts and possible water contamination.
"We are concerned about shale gas activities along the Cooper River, in western Queensland, because of its potential effects on the Lake Eyre Basin and in the Maryborough-Bundaberg area, which is good farm land," Mr Hutton said.