In an attempt to draw attention to the dangerous effects of fracking — a technique designed to extract natural gas and oil by fracturing shale rocks through drilling and injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure — Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham set fire to a river near a fracking site in South Western Queensland’s Chinchilla.
As part of the Greens’ campaign to ban fracking and unconventional gas in Australia, Buckingham was in Chinchilla probing the impact of the coal seam gas industry on the environment. In the video that has since gone viral, Buckingham is seen lighting the surface of the Condamine River using a kitchen lighter and sending huge flames around his boat.
“Holy f***. Unbelievable. A river on fire… The fracking is just a kilometer away, methane coming up and now the river is alight. The most incredible thing I’ve seen. A tragedy in the Murray-Darling Basin. This is the future of Australia if we do not stop the frackers,” he says in the video claiming that “Labor, Liberal and National parties backed the dirty frackers,” and that “only the Greens think this is bloody crazy.”
Buckingham wrote on his Facebook page:
I was shocked by force of the explosion when I tested whether gas boiling through the Condamine River, Qld was flammable. So much gas is bubbling through the river that it held a huge flame.
There has been concern that fracking and extraction of coal seam gas could cause gas to migrate through the rock. Not only is it polluting the river and air, but methane is an extremely potent heat trapping gas. Fugitive emissions from the unconventional gas industry could be a major contributor to climate change and make gas as dirty as burning coal.
Gas first started bubbling though the river shortly after the coal seam gas industry took off in the Chinchilla area. Since then the volume of gas bubbling through the river has massively increased and has spread along the river.
Buckingham told RT that fracking is a global threat as it causes methane leaks contaminating water in the communities near gas wells, and so it must be banned. Origin Energy Company, one of three energy companies to have coal seam gas wells in Chinchilla, should be condemned for polluting one of Australia’s most important rivers, he added.
“This gas is leaking out of the ground because of the fracking. They have thousands of gas wells around this river, around this site. They drill, they frack, but the gas isn’t just flowing up their gas wells, it’s coming through the ground.”
Origin Energy, however, released a statement saying the gas was naturally occurring and posed no risk to public safety.
“The seeps pose no risk to the environment or public safety providing people show common sense and act responsibly around them. Research to date has identified several scenarios that could be contributing to the seeps including the underlying geology, natural events such as drought and flood cycles and human activity which includes water bores and CSG operations.”
The Washington Post reports that the Condamine River is full of methane, and there are only two ways it could hold so much methane and cause the eruption of flames: either it’s a natural process, or caused by fracking.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia, insists that methane gas escape is a common occurrence in the Condamine River, and it was “unlikely” that the gas seep was linked to fracking in the region.
Damian Barrett, the research director of CSIRO’s onshore gas program, told The Guardian:
“The presence of the industry there has not caused that crack to occur or that fault to occur, it’s been there for aeons. The gas has probably been coming to the surface there for as long as people have been there… It’s not to rule it out completely, but we don’t see a direct connection, a direct relationship, between what’s happening on the gas fields up to this point in time and what’s happening in the river.
“The nature of the way those coals are laid down … those beds are discontinuous, they don’t tend to form natural connections. There could be a connectivity, a pathway there, but if there was it would be highly unusual.”
But Chinchilla community members told Brisbane Times the river never bubbled with such ferocity and frequency before coal seam gas mining came to the region. John Jenkyn, a local resident who captained Buckingham’s boat, said:
“Anything that contaminates the underground water is a terrible thing. Depressurizing the aquifers to extract the coal seam gas seems to have made the gas flow out beneath the Condamine River and it’s now spreading further.
“Over the last few years, more and more patches of bubbles have appeared on the river and the pressure of the gas has increased to the point where it is like an over-sized spa bath. It’s a river, it shouldn’t be doing that.”
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