Probabilistic modelling and uncertainty analysis of flux and water balance changes in a regional aquifer system due to coal seam gas development

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Sep 1;634:1246-1258. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.123. Epub 2018 Apr 18.

Abstract

Large scale development of coal seam gas (CSG) is occurring in many sedimentary basins around the world including Australia, where commercial production of CSG has started in the Surat and Bowen basins. CSG development often involves extraction of large volumes of water that results in depressurising aquifers that overlie and/or underlie the coal seams thus perturbing their flow regimes. This can potentially impact regional aquifer systems that are used for many purposes such as irrigation, and stock and domestic water. In this study, we adopt a probabilistic approach to quantify the depressurisation of the Gunnedah coal seams and how this impacts fluxes to, and from the overlying Great Artesian Basin (GAB) Pilliga Sandstone aquifer. The proposed method is suitable when effects of a new resource development activity on the regional groundwater balance needs to be assessed and account for large scale uncertainties in the groundwater flow system and proposed activity. The results indicated that the extraction of water and gas from the coal seam could potentially induce additional fluxes from the Pilliga Sandstone to the deeper formations due to lowering pressure heads in the coal seams. The median value of the rise in the maximum flux from the Pilliga Sandstone to the deeper formations is estimated to be 85ML/year, which is considered insignificant as it forms only about 0.29% of the Long Term Annual Average Extraction Limit of 30GL/year from the groundwater management area. The probabilistic simulation of the water balance components indicates only small changes being induced by CSG development that influence interactions of the Pilliga Sandstone with the overlying and underlying formations and with the surface water courses. The current analyses that quantified the potential maximum impacts of resource developments and how they influences the regional water balance, would greatly underpin future management decisions.

Keywords: Coal seam gas; Groundwater; Groundwater flux; Modelling; Uncertainty; Water balance.