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Australian river near fracking site bursts into flames

He ignited gas that has been bubbling in the river which runs through the middle of Queensland’s coal seam gas fields, The Australian reports. The fire burned for more than an hour, Buckingham said.

He caught the incident on video and posted it to his Facebook page, where it has been shared more than 57,000 times since he uploaded it Friday.

Methane seeps in the river, near Chinchilla in south-west Queensland were first reported in 2012, with a series of investigations following after that, ABC News reports.

There are several coal seam gas (CSG) operations in the area and Buckingham says these are to blame

“This area has been drilled with thousands of CSG wells and fracked. This river for kilometers is bubbling with gas and now it’s on fire,” he said. “This is the future of Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin if we do not stop the frackers who want to spread across all states and territories … this is utterly unacceptable.”

There are numerous “scenarios” that may be contributing to the bubbling in the river, a 2013 report by the scientific analysis firm Norwest Corporation.

Natural events such as drought and recharging aquifers after floods, and human activity such as CSG operations and water bore drilling are some of the possible contributing factors.

Professor Damian Barrett is the lead researcher studying unconventional gas for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and he has been keeping an eye on the Condamine gas seeps, ABC News reports.

“The isotopic signature is telling us it’s coming from coal at that point in the landscape but coal is quite close to the surface and there’s a naturally existing small fault line, which cuts the river at that point,” he said.

Research shows that the rate of flow has been on the increase, he said.

And there are hundreds of CSG wells owned by Origin Energy, QGC and Arrow Energy, reports. Origin Energy, however, says the gas bubbles aren’t caused by CSG activity, and this statement is backed by the CSIRO. Instead, the seeps are caused naturally by geological faults and water springs.

But Buckingham has a different opinion, and in the video he can be heard exclaiming: “The most incredible thing I’ve seen, a tragedy in the Murray-Darling Basin … this is utterly unacceptable, its been brought to you by Labour, Liberal and National parties who back the dirty frackers – only the Greens think this is bloody crazy.”

Buckingham traveled to Chinchilla earlier this month, as part of the Greens campaign to put an end to fracking in Australia, reported. Here, hundreds of CSG wells owned by Origin Energy, QGC, and Arrow Energy spring up across the landscape.

People living in the community say the river never bubbled furiously or frequently before CGS mining was developed here.

Karen Auty, a local resident who is also an anti-CSG activist said it’s been troubling to see waterways contaminated and ground water levels fall.

“We are deeply concerned about the water,” she said.

Local residents have “very strong anecdotal evidence” because have lived in the area for several years with no problems “until the industry came to their neighborhood.”

“As local residents we want to know whether it is safe to live among all these gas wells and infrastructure, what are the impacts on our health?” she said.

Origin Energy said CSG activity in the river isn’t causing the methane bubbles, and in a fact sheet, the company reiterated that gas leaks seeping into the river are caused by natural geological faults.

It noted that a subsequent investigation of the seeps by the Queensland Government found no evidence of safety risk or environmental harm.”

Barrett said that methane seeps like this aren’t that unusual.

“The methane that is bubbling to the surface is like many other deposits around the world that have coal in them and it’s finding its way through natural cracks and fissures to the surface through the Condamine River.

Earlier this year he told ABC that the bubbling was intensifying.

“There have been changes in the flux of methane through the river over the past 12 months,” he said.

But Buckingham is skeptical and maintains the CSIRO is comprised because it is partly funded by mining companies, reports.

“I just don’t believe it. I just don’t trust what the CSIRO is saying and the farmers who’ve been there for many generations are saying they only started seeing this in 2012,” he said. “They only started seeing this after the frackers had been in, after the drilling had occurred.

The Ecologist notes it’s worrisome that depressurizing the coal seams for gas extraction may have caused methane gas to travel up through other cracks, fissures, and bores to the surface, just as it has done in the Condamine. It is polluting the river and the air and methane is a potent greenhouse gas so these emissions are a huge concern.

And while the gas bubbling is intensifying, it’s also spreading along the river. Origin Energy’s wells are in close proximity to the seep and the company has installed pipework to monitor the situation and the Queensland Government has installed stakes on the river bank to mark seeps that are visible.

Explosive gas boiling through a river is a sing of how damaging fracking and unconventional gas extraction may be, Buckingham said.

“We should be going with clean renewable energy and banning fracking and unconventional gas in Australia. The era of fossil fuels is over.”

He said he does not want to see this happen to any of the other rivers in New South Wales, “or anywhere else,” and wants the mining of unconventional gas to be stopped.

“The fact that this is happening in the Murray Darling Basin is a national disgrace,” he said.

But even with all the risks of harvesting natural gas, it’s nevertheless a considerably healthier fuel source than coal, Mother Jones reports. Estimates show that particulate pollution produced by coal plants killed 13,000 Americans in 2010, and a recent World Health Organization study reported that air pollution (in which coal burning is a major contributor) is the deadliest environmental hazard on earth.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have any health risks, because it does.

In terms of air pollution, studies have found carcinogenic and other dangerous air pollutants near gas wells in concentrations above EPA guidelines. The pollution was at its worst within a half-mile radius of the well. Even worse, one Colorado study found that some of the airborne pollutants were endocrine disruptors, which can impact fetal development. Numerous studies found precursors to ground-level ozone, known to cause cardiovascular disease. Silica sand is also used to keep underground cracks open and this can cause pulmonary disease and lung cancer. It was found in the air around well sites, Mother Jones reports.

Around one-third of the water/chemical/sand mixture that is pumped into wells comes back up again, full of toxic fracking chemicals compiled with heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Much of this wastewater is treated and recycled to be used for irrigation and agriculture or it’s dumped into lakes and rivers. Numerous studies have discovered that this menu of chemicals is so diverse that treatment is usually incomplete and has the potential to poison drinking water supplies with chemicals linked to a smorgasbord of ailments; everything from eye irritation to cancer and nervous system damage. And, of course, it has the potential to poison fish.

Damaged wells can also be problematic and drinking water can be contaminated if the cement casings around wells crack and leak. Methane leaking into drinking water wells from leaking gas wells caused faucets in Pennsylvania to spit fire. A study in Pennsylvania found methane in 82 percent of water wells that had been sampled. This study also concluded that concentrations of methane were six times higher for water wells less than one kilometer from a fracking well. And in Texas, one study found elevated levels of arsenic in water wells less than three kilometers from gas wells.

Mother Jones notes that these issues can be improved with engineering advancements; there are gadgets that can monitor for leaks and capture gas emissions, and hardier cement can be used.

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