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CSIRO environmental scientist, Professor Damian Barrett, is heading up a major research project to establish an accurate and reliable regional measurement of methane seeps that are naturally occurring in the Surat Basin.

Professor Barrett says the project will differ from other contemporary gas seep studies that have focused largely on the concentrations of methane occurring in the Surat Basin.

"Concentration of methane is not the end game - what we want to know is the methane flux from seeps, how these fluxes are changing over time and where it is coming from?" he said.

"There are two main sources of methane in our natural environment - one is from coal seam deposits or so-called thermogenic methane, the other is called biogenic methane which can come from a variety of sources including soils, rotting vegetation, animals and water bodies.

"In the first phase of this project currently underway, we are examining a range of techniques including infrared, remote sensing, isotropic tracing, micro-meteorology tools and atmospheric transport models to determine what methods to use for the pilot phase.

"There is significant amount of experience and skills within CSIRO, but we are also drawing on our extensive research contacts across the global scientific community.

"Once the techniques and modelling are confirmed during the pilot phase, we will then move to roll out the baseline study across the broader Surat Basin region.

"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence on landscape seeps and this research project will enable us to put numbers to what volumes of methane are naturally coming out of the landscape in the Surat Basin and will provide a set of data to compare methane seeps in the future.

"Being able to identify the source and to measure the amount of methane occurring will be valuable information for the community and industry."

Professor Barrett said this project is focused on measuring natural seeps from the landscape and will distinguish these seeps from the gas emissions that may occur from gas wells and other gas related infrastructure known as "fugitive emissions", which are the subject of other studies.

The methane seeps project being undertaken by CSIRO is jointly funded by Australia Pacific LNG under the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA).

The partners in GISERA have invested more than $14 million over the next five years to research the environmental, social and economic impacts of the natural gas industry. GISERA projects are overseen by a Research Advisory Committee. The results of the methane seeps project once completed will also be externally peer-reviewed and made publicly available.

GasFields Commissioner Steven Raine who also sits on the GISERA Research Advisory Committee said this research project represents another important step forward in helping to build community confidence and understanding about the science of methane gas and its sources in the Surat Basin.

For more information on the methane seepage project, visit GISERA's website.

Geek Speak - here are some key terms you should know about methane:

  • Methane seeps are naturally occurring methane emissions from the landscape
  • Thermogenic methane is methane that comes from deposits of coal seams arising from temperature and pressure of overlying sediments
  • Biogenic methane is methane from bacteria in soils, rotting vegetation, animals, water bodies
  • Concentration is simply the amount of methane per unit volume of air
  • Flux is the volume of methane per unit of time
  • Fugitive emissions are emissions that may escape from gas wells and other gas related infrastructure.