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Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) versus Coal Seam Gas (CSG)?

Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) and Coal Seam Gas (CSG) production are two vastly different processes. While UCG and CSG both produce gas from coal deposits, the product gases they create are very different and applied to different end uses.

UCG is a process by which coal is burned in situ underground via a controlled combustion process to produce syngas—a mixture of various hydrocarbon gases, hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The exact composition of syngas depends on the coal type, operating pressure, combustion temperature, water concentration, and the oxidant used (air vs pure oxygen). Syngas is used as a chemical feedstock to produce various petrochemicals and plastics as well as a fuel for power generation.

The extraction of syngas is considered a mining activity and is governed under the Mineral Resources Act 1989. UCG is an unconventional coal mining activity, providing a way to extract energy from coal deposits that are uneconomical to mine using conventional methods.

The Queensland Government has placed a moratorium on all future UCG exploration and development activities because of the unfavourable outcomes from the UCG trial projects undertaken in Queensland to date.

In comparison, the extraction of CSG is a petroleum and gas extraction activity governed under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004. CSG has been commercially produced safely in Queensland for more than 15 years and currently accounts for more than 70% of the state's natural gas consumption. Table 1 (below) illustrates the difference between UCG and CSG.

Table 1: Underground Coal Gasification vs Coal Seam Gas   Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) Coal Seam Gas (CSG) Energy Source Coal deposits Natural gas trapped in coal deposits Infrastructure Two wells per site (an injection well and a production well), linked by pipelines to processing facilities One well per site (a production well), linked by pipelines to processing facilities Process description Coal is burned in situ underground by pumping air or oxygen down an injection well to produce syngas – the syngas is then extracted through a production well Coal deposits are depressurised by pumping out water to release the natural gas – the water and natural gas are extracted through a single production well Product Syngas Natural Gas Final product Liquid fuel, chemical feedstock, petrochemicals and plastics Natural gas and liquefied natural gas Waste water Produced water contains hydrocarbons from the coal combustion process Produced water contains naturally occurring salts

What are fugitive methane emissions from the CSG industry and how are they measured and controlled?

Historical evidence from coal rich areas in Queensland, such as the Surat and Bowen Basins, shows that natural gas seepages from the landscape existed prior to the development of the current coal seam gas industry.

GISERA is conducting a Greenhouse Gas Footprint project to detect and measure methane seeps in the Surat Basin to provide a baseline of methane emissions on a regional scale. This data set will be used as a benchmark to compare changes in methane concentrations over time as coal seam gas production increases in the Surat Basin.

Emissions of methane from physical infrastructure (e.g. well heads, processing equipment and pipelines) and from operational losses are known as 'fugitive' emissions. Fugitive emissions by their very nature are often difficult to measure directly. An initial study (Day et al. 2012) of fugitive emissions from the Australian CSG industry estimated fugitive emissions at between 1.3 to 4.4% of gas production. Research is continuing to develop better methodologies in estimating these fugitive emissions and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Day et al. (2014) studied fugitive emissions from 43 CSG production wells across Queensland and NSW. They found that the average fugitive emission rate from all sources on the well pads was about 0.02% of total gas production.

A key focus of industry and regulation is gas well integrity to ensure the design, construction, operation and maintenance of gas wells will maximise gas production and minimise the level of fugitive emissions.

Additional Reference Material

Phase 1: GISERA. Characterisation of Regional Fluxes of Methane in the Surat Basin, Queensland

What are landscape gas seeps and why do they occur?

Landscape Gas Seeps Are Naturally Occurring

Historical evidence from coal rich areas in Queensland, such as the Surat and Bowen Basins, shows that gas seeps from the landscape are natural and pre-date the development of the coal seam gas industry.

CSIRO Research Into Gas Seeps in Queensland

GISERA is currently undertaking three research projects under the Greenhouse Gas Footprint portfolio in the Surat Basin. The projects include research on the Characterisation of Regional Fluxes of Methane in the Surat Basin, Queensland to detect and measure landscape gas seeps. Gas seeps from sedimentary basins containing coal deposits are commonplace around the world where the coal deposits are located at, or relatively close to, the surface. Natural connectivity created by cracks and faults in the geological strata above these coal seams may provide the pathway for coal seam gas to escape to the atmosphere.

The research being undertaken by GISERA will determine a regional baseline of methane gas seeps for comparison purposes over time as coal seam gas production increases. The project was designed to be undertaken in three separate phases:

Phase 1: A Review and Analysis of Literature on Methane Detection and Flux Determination

In this phase, a literature review of existing remote and ground based sensing methodologies for detecting and quantifying natural methane gas seeps was undertaken. This phase of the project was completed in December 2013.

Phase 2: A Pilot Study of Methodology to Detect and Quantify Methane Sources

In this phase, field trials were undertaken to test the range of remote and ground based sensing methodologies identified in Phase 1. The preferred method identified through these trials was the use of two fixed monitoring stations, one located to the southwest of Chinchilla and the other located to the northeast of Chinchilla, coupled with a suitable inverse model. This phase of the project was completed in May 2015

Phase 3: The Continuous Collection of Methane Seepage Flux Data (ongoing)

In this phase, the preferred method from the Phase 2 trials was operationalised. CSIRO are collecting data from the two fixed monitoring stations near Chinchilla. Each station continuously measures air quality data, ambient methane concentrations and local meteorological data. This phase of the project will continue for a period of three years, with the final report on the regional baseline of methane emissions in the Surat Basin due to be released in early 2018.

Gas Seeps and Water Bodies

Landscape gas seeps are largely undetectable without the aid of specialized analytical equipment, because methane gas is both odorless and colourless. The exceptions to the rule, however, are the rare cases where there is a water body intercepting the pathway between the coal deposits and the atmosphere. In these cases, the gas seeps become evident as bubbles in the water.

Condamine River Gas Seeps: The most well known case of gas seeps in Queensland are those observed in the Condamine River near Chinchilla. There have been several formal investigations into the Condamine River gas seeps following concerns raised by landholders and concerned citizens that they may be caused by the CSG industry. The investigations include:

  • In May 2012, the LNG Enforcement Unit (now the Coal Seam Gas Compliance Unit) was contacted by a landholder about bubbling observed in the Condamine River. After completing an investigation of these concerns, the LNG Enforcement Unit released their results in December 2012 in a report titled the Summary Technical Report - Part 1 Condamine River Gas Seep Investigation.
  • Origin, on behalf of the onshore gas industry, commissioned the Norwest Corporation to conduct an independent investigation into the gas bubbling observed in the Condamine River. The Norwest Corporation released their report, titled the Condamine River Gas Seep Investigation: Techincal Report, in February 2014. This report identified several factors that may be contributing to the gas seeps - including the underlying geology, natural events such as drought and flood cycles, and human activity (e.g. withdrawing water from stock and domestic bores and coal seam gas wells). The Norwest report also included recommendations to undertake further studies to determine the possible geological mechanisms and pathways which may explain the phenomenon. Origin is actively following up on these recommendations and their progress can be tracked on the Australian Pacific LNG website.
  • An independent scientific review of the Norwest Corporation and the LNG Enforcement Unit technical reports was coordinated by Dr Geoff Garrett, Chief Scientist to the Queensland Government, in order to gain additional confidence that the work completed met a high scientific standard.

The Chief Scientist was responsible for selecting the members of the review team. The team comprised four eminent scientists with expertise covering the areas of petroleum/reservoir engineering, geology, environmental chemistry and ecotoxicology and aquatic ecology.

This review found that the studies had been carried out in a rigorous fashion, following sound scientific methodologies with well documented results. It also found that the conceptual model developed by Norwest was rigorous in the way it identified the data gaps and provided recommendations for future work.

What are the different types of natural gas in Queensland and where are they found?

Conventional and unconventional petroleum resources

Petroleum resources are distinguished as 'conventional' or 'unconventional' based on the differences in the methods of extraction. Conventional petroleum resources are oil and gas reserves found in concentrated pockets that form as a result of underground geology that allows the oil and gas to accumulate in one spot. The method of extraction involves drilling a single vertical well and pumping the gas out.

Unconventional petroleum resources are oil and gas reserves found dispersed through low permeability and low porosity rock formations, including sandstone, coal and shale. The extraction of oil and gas in these types of reserves may involve using either multiple vertical wells and/or vertical wells in combination with horizontal or directional drilling.

Note: Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used to increase the volumes of gas extracted from both conventional and unconventional wells, although it is most frequently used when drilling unconventional wells. See Q2 below for more information.

Types of unconventional gas

Australia has vast resources of unconventional gas including coal seam gas (CSG), shale gas, and tight gas. Currently, only coal seam gas is being developed in Queensland.

CSG production in Queensland

Queensland has two basins currently producing CSG, the Bowen and Surat basins. A number of other basins have potential and are currently being explored.

For further information about CSG production in Queensland, refer to Queensland's Petroleum and Coal Seam Gas 2014-15.

In Queensland, a petroleum resource authority is required under the Petroleum and Gas (Production & Safety) Act 2004 to explore for and produce gas.

What are the potential impacts of onshore gas industry operations on agricultural land?

Types of Impacts

The construction and installation of onshore gas industry infrastructure (e.g. gas wells, pipelines, access roads, laydown yards), by virtue of the project area footprint and the heavy machinery involved, may cause localised environmental disturbance, including soil degradation, contamination and the introduction of invasive species.

Protection of Agricultural Land

In Queensland, agricultural land is protected under environmental and regional planning legislation.

One of the purposes of the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 is to manage the impacts of resource activities on areas of regional interest and to manage the coexistence of these resource activities and other regulated activities with highly productive agricultural activities. An area of regional interest defined under the Act is called a strategic cropping area. This is an area containing strategic cropping land that is highly suitable for cropping because of a combination of the land's soil, climate and landscape features.

A priority agricultural area is an area of regionally significant agricultural production that is identified in a regional plan.

The purpose of identifying priority agricultural areas and strategic cropping areas is to ensure that resource activities in these areas do not hinder agricultural operations. They must not result in a material impact on a priority agricultural land use. The assessment criteria in the Regional Planning Interests Regulation 2014 provide prescribed solutions for managing impact.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1994, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection may require financial assurance as a condition of an environmental authority. Considerations include the degree of risk of environmental harm being caused or that might reasonably be expected to be caused by the activity and the likelihood of action being required to rehabilitate or restore harm to the environment caused by the activity.

Soil Impacts

For a discussion of impacts on soil in the Surat and Bowen Basins, refer to Vacher et al (2014), Quantifying the impacts of coal seam gas (CSG) activities on the soil resource of agricultural lands in Queensland, Australia.

This paper examines the importance of quantifying the different impacts that CSG activities have on soils in order to better inform the development of gas industry guidelines to minimise impacts to the soil resource on joint CSG-agricultural lands.

The Gas Industry, Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) undertook a study of case study farms in the Surat Basin. The effects of coal seam gas infrastructure development on arable land. Project 5: Without a trace (Final report). The aim of this study was twofold:

  1. To assess the extent of damage to agricultural soil caused by the various elements of CSG development, and
  2. To estimate the likely impact of soil compaction, caused during the establishment of CSG infrastructure, on crop productivity.

Weed Management

Callinan, B. (2014) Agriculture, Big Business and the Gas Fields: Practical Tools for Weed Hygiene at the Mega-Scale refers to a range of measures to prevent weed spread. These measures include landholders' practices; legislation; and weed hygiene procedures adopted by the onshore gas industry.

Landholders can help prevent weed spread by regularly cleaning vehicles and equipment, ensuring weed hygiene declarations accompany seed stock and fodder, adopting quarantine procedures before introducing new livestock and maintaining pastures in good conditions. They can benchmark their weed status and establish risk management practices, ideally prior to any significant gas activity on their property.

The Land Access Code, made under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004, imposes mandatory conditions concerning the conduct of authorised activities, including petroleum authorities, on private land. One of the mandatory conditions (section 15) is to prevent the spread of a declared pest while carrying out authorized activities. A declared pest is defined under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002 and can also be an animal or plant declared under a local law to be a pest.

Callinan (2014) discusses weed prevention strategies developed by the onshore gas industry as part of standard operating procedures. These strategies help to find collaborative weed management solutions with other industry partners and to guide biosecurity management planning, hygiene management planning and practices and land access agreement negotiations.


 

 

What chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing and how are they regulated?

WHAT IS HYDRAULIC FRACTURING?

Hydraulic fracturing, also commonly referred to as fraccing or fracking, is a method used by the oil and gas industry since the late 1940s to increase the rate and total amount of oil and gas extracted from reservoirs. It has also been used to enhance coal seam gas (CSG) production from coal seams since the 1970s in the United States (US) and since the 1990s in Australia. It is estimated that only eight percent (8%) of all existing conventional and non-conventional oil and gas wells in Queensland have been fracced.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping high pressure fluids into a target gas formation to fracture the rock to release the oil and gas. Hydraulic fracturing is primarily used in the production of shale gas and tight gas. However, it is also used in the production of CSG from deeper, lower permeability coal seams.

It is estimated that, as the CSG industry expands in Queensland, 20-40% of CSG wells may require hydraulic fracturing at some point in their lifecycle.

WHAT CHEMICALS ARE USED IN HYDRAULIC FRACTURING?

Water and sand make up 97-99% of fraccing fluids. The remaining volume is made up of chemical additives to reduce friction, inhibit bacteria growth, dissolve minerals and enhance the fluid's ability to transport sand into fractures. The exact chemical composition of fraccing fluids varies with the geological formation being fracced and the temperature and depth of the target formation.

BTEX refers to the chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene which are naturally found in petroleum, including crude oil and natural gas. More information on BTEX chemicals is available in a research paper by Dr. Frederic Leusch and Dr. Michael Bartkow (2010) A short primer on benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX) in the environment and in hydraulic fracturing fluids.

The use of BTEX chemicals in fraccing fluids in Queensland is strictly prohibited under section 206 of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

HOW IS HYDRAULIC FRACTURING REGULATED IN QUEENSLAND?

The transport, storage, use and disposal of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing that may present a hazard to people, property or the environment are strictly regulated and controlled in Queensland.

Environmental Protection

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) requires a description of the chemicals proposed to be used in hydraulic fracturing, along with a Stimulation Management Plan, as part of the application for an Environmental Authority. The Environmental Authority approval imposes strict environmental conditions on the storage, use, disposal and monitoring and control of the chemicals to be used in the hydraulic fracturing process. These conditions are legally enforceable and carry heavy penalties for non-compliance. Gas companies are legally bound to notify government of any environmental incident or breach of a condition.

After fracking has occurred, the quality and quantity of fracture flowback water must be monitored until one-and-a-half times (150 per cent) the amount of the fluid used in the hydraulic fracture procedure has been removed from the well. This is to ensure that all the frac water that goes downhole is recovered and reused or treated appropriately.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 lists general obligations and duties to prevent environmental harm, nuisances and contamination. The two primary duties that apply to everyone in Queensland are:

  • General environmental duty – which means a person must not carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm, unless measures to prevent or minimise the harm have been taken; and
  • Duty to notify of environmental harm – to inform the administering authority and landowner or occupier when an incident has occurred that may have caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm.
Workers Health and Safety

Some chemicals used in fracking may be defined as 'hazardous', based on an internationally agreed system for classifying and labelling hazardous chemicals, known as the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals or GHS.

Workplace health and safety legislation in Queensland is administered by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and uses the GHS classification system to identify hazardous chemicals.

The Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety is an agreement between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to harmonisation Occupational Health and Safety legislation across Australia.

Under this agreement, the Queensland Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (WHR Regulation) provide a nationally consistent framework to protect workers against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of risks arising from work with hazardous chemicals. The WHS Act puts the duty on employers to do everything reasonably practical to keep workers and the general public safe, including adequately managing the risk of chemical spills and exposure.

The following Codes of Practice, enabled under section 274 of the WHS Act, are model codes of practice developed by Safework Australia and adopted by the Queensland Government.

  • Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace Code of Practice 2013
  • Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals Code of Practice 2011
  • Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals Code of Practice 2011
Transportation

'Dangerous Goods' is a term used to classify chemicals which might present an immediate hazard to people, property or the environment and is defined in the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (known as the Australian Dangerous Goods Code). Queensland legislation calls up this Code in governing the transport of dangerous goods.

The Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 and the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) – Dangerous Goods Regulation 2008, administered by the Department of Transport and Mains Roads (DTMR), govern the transport of dangerous goods by road in Queensland. This includes the requirement for all vehicles transporting dangerous goods to have a dangerous goods vehicle licence and for all drivers transporting dangerous goods to have a dangerous goods drivers licence.

The Transport Infrastructure Act 1994 and the Transport Infrastructure (Dangerous Goods by Rail) Regulation 2008, also administered by DTMR, govern the transport of dangerous goods by rail in Queensland.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCE MATERIALS

  • IESC (2014). Hydraulic fracturing ('fraccing') techniques, including reporting requirements and governance arrangements.
    Provides an overview of the hydraulic fracturing process; the use of fracturing chemicals; key environmental concerns (subsurface contamination, surface contamination, induced seismicity; and water use); and the regulatory framework in the various jurisdictions, including the Queensland's code of practice for constructing and abandoning coal seam gas wells.
  • Batley, G. & Kookana, R, (2012). Environmental issues with coal seam gas recovery: Managing the fracking boom.
    An outline of the types of research required to fill the information gaps to better understand the ecological risks from gas recovery.
  • GasFields Commission Queensland (2015). Onshore gas well integrity in Queensland, Australia: Technical Paper.
    A review of the design, operation and monitoring of gas wells to ensure that fluids produced by onshore gas wells are contained in such a way as to protect the surrounding environment
  • GasFields Commission Queensland (2015). Protecting groundwater quality with gas well integrity: Topic sheet.
    A review of the standards and regulations governing the design, construction, operation and monitoring of gas wells that ensures the gas produced is contained in a way that protects groundwater resources.

What is CSG water and how is it managed?

What is CSG Water?

The groundwater that is removed from coal seams in order to produce CSG is known by several different names, including CSG co-produced water, CSG produced water, CSG associated water and CSG water.

CSG water contains natural salts and other minerals in varying quantities. All groundwater extracted to produce CSG in Queensland is treated to ensure that it meets the quality standards and environmental guidelines for its intended re-use purpose.

In Queensland, the majority of the treated CSG water is re-used for crop irrigation, livestock watering, industrial manufacturing or dust suppression. Treated CSG water is also re-injected into groundwater aquifers for future use. The treatment and re-use of CSG water is strictly regulated.

For more details on the treatment, regulation and monitoring of the beneficial use of CSG water see the Commission's CSG Water Treatment and Beneficial Use in Queensland.

The Regulatory Framework Governing The Management Of Csg Water

The Coal Seam Gas Water Management Policy 2012 encourages CSG operators to manage CSG water in a way that benefits regional communities and reduces impacts on the environment.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 imposes requirements on the management of CSG water, including its use, treatment, storage and disposal.

The Waste Reduction Recycling Act 2011 recognises that CSG water, which is a 'waste' under the Environmental Protection Act 1994, may have beneficial uses. The Act prescribes the process whereby CSG water can be re-classified as a resource and used for a beneficial purpose.

Beneficial Use Approvals

There are two types of Beneficial Use Approvals (BUA): specific and general.

A general BUA has clear standards which, if complied with, do not require individual assessment by EHP. Anyone can operate under this type of BUA provided they comply with the conditions of the general BUA. A specific BUA can be obtained through an application to EHP. EHP has developed two general BUAs for CSG water:

  1. The general BUA that applies to irrigation use is the General Beneficial Use Approval—Irrigation of Associated Water (including coal seam gas water).
  2. The General Beneficial Use Approval – Associated Water (including coal seam gas water) applies to other uses, including dust suppression, landscaping and revegetation and domestic, stock, stock intensive and incidental land management.

Case Study

The Chinchilla Beneficial Use Scheme is an example of CSG water being put to a beneficial use. It is a contractual arrangement between Queensland Gas Company (QGC) and SunWater, a bulk water infrastructure developer and manager.

QGC treats CSG water from its gas fields in the Surat Basin at its Kenya Water Treatment Plant south-west of Chinchilla. The Kenya plant treats and recovers approximately 90% of the raw CSG water and transports it by pipeline directly to landholders and to the Chinchilla Weir on the Condamine River, where it is mixed with river water and supplements water reserves available for agricultural use and public consumption.

What is the effect of CSG extraction on the availability of groundwater in aquifers?

THE REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF GROUNDWATER Under Queensland legislation [the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 and the Petroleum Act 1923], petroleum tenure holders are authorised to undertake activities related to exploration for and production of petroleum. This authorisation also includes the right to take groundwater. CSG operators have the right to pump groundwater in the process of producing CSG because water pressure in the coals seams must be reduced in order to release the methane gas which is adhered to the coal. When water is extracted from a CSG well, groundwater pressure falls in the area surrounding the well. Under Chapter 3 of the Water Act 2000, holders of a petroleum tenure are required to manage these impacts on groundwater availability. CUMULATIVE MANAGEMENT AREA (CMA) In areas of concentrated petroleum or gas development, the impacts on water pressures in aquifers caused by water extraction by individual operations can overlap. The state government can declare such an area to be a 'cumulative management area' or CMA which has been established for the Surat Basin under section 365 of the Water Act 2000. This area of concentrated CSG development in Queensland has been declared as the 'Surat CMA'. The Office of Groundwater Assessment (OGIA) is an independent entity established under the Water Act 2000. OGIA is responsible for preparing a cumulative assessment of impacts of CSG water extraction, and develops integrated regional management arrangements. These assessments and management arrangements are set out in an Underground Water Impact Report (UWIR). When prepared, a UWIR is submitted for approval to the Chief Executive of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP). The UWIR has to be revised every three years, or at an earlier or later time as approved by EHP. The first Surat UWIR was approved in 2012. The new UWIR has now been released as a consultation draft. That report is referred to as Surat UWIR 2016. It includes: • updated maps of predicted water pressure impacts in aquifers; • updated water monitoring strategy; and • updated management strategy for springs that could be affected by falls in water levels. The Surat UWIR establishes Immediately Affected Areas (IAA) within the Surat CMA. An IAA is the area within which water levels are predicted to fall by more than the trigger threshold within three years (as set under the Water Act 2000). Within an IAA, petroleum tenure holders are required to carry out bore assessments and enter into make good agreements with private bore owners. Under section 370 of the Water Act 2000, a petroleum tenure holder working outside an approved CMA (e.g. the Surat Basin CMA), must prepare an underground water impact report for their petroleum tenure area and submit it to EPH for approval. AQUIFER CONNECTIVITY Aquifer connectivity refers to the ease with which groundwater can flow within and between geological formations. Research shows there is low aquifer connectivity (low vertical permeabilities) between the Surat, Bowen and Galilee Basins and that water flow between the formations in these basins is extremely slow. Water flows from areas of higher water level (or pressure) to areas of lower water level (or pressure). When the hydrological system is disturbed by activities such as groundwater extraction, the water pressures underground and the direction of water flow may alter, which in turn may result in a change to aquifer water levels. For more information on aquifer connectivity, refer to: • GasFields Commission Queensland. Groundwater Aquifer Connectivity in Queensland, Australia. • IESC (2014). Aquifer connectivity within the Great Artesian Basin, and the Surat, Bowen and Galilee Basins.