It is important to understand what coal seam gas extraction means for human health and the environment. Coal seam gas extraction is closely regulated by state, territory and Commonwealth governments, which legally require protective measures to be in place to safeguard health and the environment. While the exact requirements vary by jurisdiction, this regulatory framework applies to all aspects of the industry, including the handling and use of chemicals throughout the extraction process.
To increase the knowledge base about chemicals used in the industry and in recognition of the scientific and community interest in the risks of this chemical use, the Australian Government commissioned the National assessment of chemicals associated with coal seam gas extraction in Australia in June 2012.
The Assessment examined 113 chemicals used by companies in Australia between 2010 and 2012 in drilling and hydraulic fracturing for coal seam gas, to develop a stronger understanding of the risks these chemicals could pose to the health of workers, the public and the environment. Industry reports that 59 of the 113 chemicals that were being used in coal seam gas extraction in 2010-12 were still being used in 2015-17.
The focus of the Assessment was solely on the above-ground (surface) handling of chemicals – it did not consider potential risks from chemicals entering deeper groundwater through drilling or fracturing operations. The Australian government has since commissioned additional research into deeper groundwater that found the risks to be very low. This is consistent with international studies that had shown that the greatest risk to human health or the environment from chemicals used in coal seam gas extraction is from spills or releases of chemicals during surface activities such as transport, handling, storage and mixing of chemicals. It is important to note that not all wells require fracturing and not all chemicals are used at all sites. Most of the chemicals are also commonly used in other industries. Some are used in homes.