Did you catch the coal seam gas episode of Insight on Tuesday night? If you missed it (like me!), check out the SBS website to watch it online.
I noticed a few familiar faces in the audience – Drew Hutton, the activist spearheading the ‘lock the gate‘ movement, Andrew Brier, who spoke in the CSG information videos developed by DERM, and my old boss, Chris Moran!
Chris currently heads up the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, though was director of the Centre for Water in the Minerals Industry when I worked for him. He was exactly as I remembered him: thoughtful, pragmatic and well-spoken. Chris has a strong ability to step back from a problem and approach issues from a broader perspective
During Insight, Chris gave an example that helps put the volume of extracted groundwater in perspective. Here it is (paraphrased):
Consider a 20,000 sq km area which is being mined for coal seam gas. At peak extraction levels, you might expect about 200 gigalitres of water to be extracted (which is almost half the water in Sydney Harbour). It sounds like a hell of a lot. However, if you were to spread this volume of water over the entire extraction area, the water would only be 1cm deep. In an area that receives 60cm of rainfall annually, the amount of water that’s being removed is probably less than the annual variation in rainfall. So when you stop thinking about this enormous number of 200 gigalitres and think about what it really means in that context, you realise it’s not that much water.
Although this example is a bit ‘back of the envelope’, it does help to frame the bigger picture and see beyond statistics and figures. Sure the volumes of water sound massive in absolute terms, but compared to the amount of water cycling through the groundwater system, it’s not much at all.