Natural gas is mostly made up of methane (CH4) and is an important source of energy. It is also one of the cleanest fuels that we currently have available producing less than 1% of the sulphide emissions and half of the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. In recent years, the shale gas boom in the United States has led to an increase in the availability of natural gas on the US market. Many power stations have switched from coal to gas, leading to the US achieving a massive reduction in CO2 emissions of 450 million tonnes. This is equivalent to the energy used in 41 million homes. While viable and affordable renewable energy technologies are being developed, Buru Energy’s natural gas provides a clean, affordable and secure energy source for Western Australia.
Buru Energy is a small West Australian Company that is in the early stages of gas exploration and appraisal in the Canning Superbasin. Buru’s activities are generally on long established pastoral stations between Broome and Fitzroy Crossing, to the south of the Great Northern Highway. Buru Energy has identified what is potentially a large gas resource that could provide energy security to Western Australia for at least the next 50 years. We are supported in our gas exploration and appraisal program by our principal Joint Venture partner, Mitsubishi Corporation. Our 2015 program for the evaluation of the resource will involve the hydraulic fracturing stimulation (fraccing) of up to four wells to test the flow of gas. Should the exploration and appraisal process be successful, gas from the basin will be piped to the gas pipeline at Port Hedland where it will enter the domestic market under a State Agreement with the Western Australian Government. There is also the potential for the development of local industry in the Kimberley using gas from this program.
The exploration and appraisal process for the tight gas resource is expected to occur over a period of 2-3 years. During this period of time, a series of tests will be carried out on existing well sites to test the flow rates and commercial potential of the resource. During this time, the Company will work with local people to identify work and business opportunities that match Company requirements. We will also partner with local training organisations such as KTI and KGT to develop training plans and deliver training. This model is focused on building capacity and linking training to employment opportunities on the potential project.
The project will also benefit local Kimberley businesses while having a low impact on the community. The infrastructure associated with onshore gas is relatively simple and located out of town on pastoral stations. The project will not require a large Fly In, Fly Out (FIFO) workforce but will complement and provide opportunities to existing businesses. The plan is to train a local workforce that can service the needs of the project, providing opportunities to local businesses and supporting the local economy.
Tight gas is natural gas that is released from rock formations deep underground by a process known as hydraulic fracturing (HF, fraccing, tight gas stimulation). Hydraulic fracturing is essentially the pumping of water and sand into a tight rock containing gas or oil to enhance the flow paths for the gas or oil to flow into the well bore and be recovered at commercially viable rates. Without fraccing, the hydrocarbons will not flow at rates that are high enough to make the process commercially viable. The HF operation lasts approximately 2 hours and creates hairline fractures in the target reservoir of less than 5 mm width. Once the pumping has finished, the pressure is reduced and the hydrocarbons (gas or oil) flow back up the well while the sand remains in the fractures to help provide a path for the hydrocarbons to flow to the well.
Buru’s tight gas stimulation programme is targeting the Laurel Formation reservoir. This is a series of ancient marine rocks which was formed approximately 380 million years ago, and in our area of interest is located between 2.0 km and 5.0 km underground. The upcoming programme will test wells that were drilled into the Laurel Formation between 2011 and 2013.
Hydraulic fracturing was first undertaken in Oklahoma in 1949 and has been used in Australia since 1958, when oil wells on Barrow Island were fracced. Hydraulic fracturing is a well understood, well developed oilfield practice. For example, in 2013 more than 300,000 hydraulic fractures were performed in deep shale reservoirs in North America, and 300 wells were fracced in the Cooper Basin in Australia.
Once a zone is hydraulically fractured, it will often produce hydrocarbons for more than 20 years.
Apart from the short hydraulic fracturing process, production from shale gas well is essentially the same as conventional gas production, which has been undertaken successfully in Australia since 1961, and globally since the 1850’s.
Chemicals are added to the frac fluid for a variety of reasons including to suspend sand in the fluid, to reduce friction in the well bore during pumping, to prevent corrosion of the equipment and piping, and protect hydrocarbons in the reservoir against introduced bacteria. Added chemicals are biodegradable and are quickly broken down in the reservoir. The fraccing fluid comprises 93.1% water, 5.00% sand and ~1.83% chemicals. These chemicals are dominated by salt and food acid (1.76%) with chemicals derived from common household items contributing the remaining 0.07%. Salt is an important constituent of the fluid as it acts as a clay stabiliser. Following our contractor assessment phase, an ecotoxicity assessment of the HF fluid was undertaken by Ecotox Services Australia. Results of the fluid system is 70 times lower than the acute national guidelines limit of very slightly toxic and 6,300 times lower than the chronic national guideline limit of very slightly toxic.
All of the ingredients in our HF fluid have been fully disclosed in accordance with DMP requirements.
[toggle title_open=”Close Me” title_closed=”Click here to view breakdown of liquids” hide=”yes” border=”no” style=”default” excerpt_length=”0″ read_more_text=”Read More” read_less_text=”Read Less” include_excerpt_html=”no”]
* Figures shown in this table are percentage by weight. Other illustrations may show percentage by volume and are slightly different. These figures are typical averages and may vary slightly from well to well.[/toggle]
The Canning Superbasin is host to Australia’s second largest aquifer after the Great Artesian Basin. The Great Artesian Basin extends over the Cooper Basin which is Australia’s largest onshore oil and gas producing region. Buru Energy is licenced by the Department of Water to use up to 50 ML from each well site during the proposed programme which includes contingencies for road maintenance, fire protection, camp operations and HF activities. This water usage equates to less than 0.02% of the annual sustainable yield of the aquifers in which they are located. Our maximum total water usage for the four wells in the TGS program is less than eight days’ water use by the Town of Broome or less than the water required to irrigate 1 Ha of sorghum crop annually.
Water in the Canning Basin aquifer system is replenished by rainwater each year during the wet season. The aquifer is an effective storage system that ensures there is plentiful water available all year round. The Canning Superbasin aquifer provides water for pastoral use, drinking water and industry throughout the Kimberley. Less than 4% of groundwater available in the Canning Basin is used each year.
There has been no confirmed instance of groundwater contamination due to hydraulic fracturing anywhere in the world. This has included numerous international reviews across 13 jurisdictions into the impact of shale gas activities on groundwater. These include reviews undertaken by the US EPA, the US Groundwater Protection Council, the US Department of Energy, the New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the Republic of South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources and, closer to home, the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA 2013). The ACOLA study states:
there had been no cases internationally where hydraulic fracturing associated with the extraction of shale and tight gas had accidently hit a water source and caused contamination.
Nonetheless, Buru Energy has undertaken a thorough evaluation of the groundwater systems in the regions in which the wells are located. All recognised aquifers that provide water for public drinking, stock water and irrigation are located in the top 700 metres of the ground. There is a vertical separation of at least 1,300 metres between the groundwater aquifer and the formations where the fraccing is proposed to occur. There is no possibility of the fracture extending vertically into the groundwater system.
To confirm we have no impact on groundwater, Buru Energy has designed and implemented a comprehensive monitoring programme in consultation with the Department of Water, Department of Mines and Petroleum, UWA and specialist reviewers acting on behalf of Traditional Owners. This monitoring program is being undertaken in partnership with the Traditional Owners with results made publically available here as data becomes available.
A complete failure of well integrity may lead to an uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons either below or above the ground surface. Australia and WA have a long history in petroleum exploration and production with the first well drilled onshore in Australia in 1866 and the first well drilled in the Canning Basin in 1923 with an excellent safety record.
Wells are highly engineered structures constructed with multiple layers of steel and cement to ensure integrity. Hydrocarbons brought to surface are contained within three concentric layers of steel casing cemented in place. These layers of steel and cement are regularly pressure tested and inspected with acoustic tools to confirm the integrity of the cement seal. The well head pressure is also regularly checked to monitor well integrity. Where wells are tested and found to have poor integrity, remediation of the well is able to be simply carried out.
Wells are engineered and monitored to international standards prescribed by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the International Standards Organisation and local regulations which can exceed these international standards. Buru Energy is required under regulation to follow these regulations and international standards. As a result of the many years of experience, research and sophisticated engineering mandated by these standards, oil and gas wells have an overall failure rate of less than 0.03% with failure being characterised by lack of integrity rather than any catastrophic failure leading to a hydrocarbon release (King & King 2013).
When the wells are no longer productive, they are filled with concrete in accordance with international standards. The concrete is stronger than the surrounding formation, and forms a plug to permanently isolate the hydrocarbon reservoir from overlying rock formations including those containing potable groundwater.
Flowback water is the water that returns to the surface after the hydraulic fracturing process. Typically, between 35% and 50% of water injected into the well returns to the surface. Most of the flowback water returns in the first two weeks, and the flowback process is essentially complete after three weeks. This contrasts with much shallower coal seam gas wells, where there is a long, extensive dewatering process of the water in the coal seam in order to release the gas.
The flowback water will be contained on-site in retention ponds which will be triple lined, and are designed so that they have sufficient freeboard for a 1 in 100 year rain event. Buru Energy has a good understanding of the constituents that will be present in the flowback water. Samples collected from drilling, during an earlier test frac, and from the water produced in a nearby oil field have been analysed and demonstrated that there will be no contamination.
We also know that the flowback water will likely be salty as the reservoir is an ancient marine system. At the end of the test period, the flowback water will be reinjected into the Laurel Formation more than 2km below the surface, where it will be sealed off and permanently isolated from shallow potable groundwater.
Buru Energy’s TGS activities will occur on existing well sites and access tracks and so will have minimal impact on the biodiversity of the area. Prior to clearing these sites for drilling, Buru undertook baseline surveys of flora and fauna at each site. Weed and seed checks are also undertaken on personnel and equipment to ensure our activities do not spread weeds that can threaten native vegetation and pastoral activities.
Buru Energy is also working to better the understanding of the flora and fauna across the region. For example, the Canning Superbasin is an area with a healthy population of the Greater Bilby. Buru Energy has been working with Yawuru Native Title Holders to understand the distribution of the bilby population across the region. Most recently, this included mapping of bilbies and Yawuru cultural values across the Yulleroo region in partnership with the Yawuru in July 2014. Buru Energy is also co-funding a PhD project at Murdoch University examining the ecology and distribution of Bilbies across the Canning Basin. This research will help to better understand Bilby diet, habitat use and movement patterns in the Canning Superbasin – information that has not previously been available for the region.
Hydraulic fracturing has been successfully practiced throughout the world for more than 60 years and is a proven and safe process. It’s a technique that has been perfected by operators and thoroughly assessed by independent scientists and analysts. There are no confirmed cases of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater anywhere in the world. This statement of fact has been repeatedly confirmed by regulatory agencies in the UK, North America, New Zealand and Africa. Following is some further reading on the hydraulic fracturing process and the outcomes of key reviews:
Further Technical Information
- Frac Facts – What the Science Says [Please click here]
- DMP The facts about Fraccing Please click here
- APPEA Our Natural Advantage [Please click here]
- APPEA CCWA Advertisement “deceptive and misleading” [Please click here]
- APPEA Clicktivists Conned [Please click here]
- WA Legislative Council – “Implications for WA of Hydraulic Fracturing for Unconventional Gas” [Please click here]
- ConocoPhillips video showing the process of hydraulic fracturing [Please click here]
- Halliburton’s Hydraulic Fracturing 101 Video [Please click here]
Other Industry Bodies
- ACOLA Report. Securing Australia’s Future [Please click here]
- Energy in Depth. Safety of Hydraulic Fracturing [Please click here]
- Energy in Depth. Gasland II debunked [Please click here]
- Penn State Public Broadcasting. Explore Shale [Please click here]
King GE, and King DE, (2013). Environmental risk arising from well construction failure: Difference between barrier and well failure, and estimates of failure frequency across common well types, locations and well age. Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE-166142).
ACOLA (2013). Australian Council of Learned Academies – “Engineering Energy: Unconventional Gas Production”