A RECENT decision by the West Australian Environment Minister to allow small-scale hydraulic fracturing in the Perth Basin without the need for environmental assessments could be a sign of things to come for unconventional gas resources, which some have tipped as the next energy frontier for the boom state.
Rising domestic gas prices and the rapid growth of unconventional gas markets overseas have prompted increased scrutiny of WA’s onshore Perth Basin. WA Department of Mines and Petroleum figures reveal use of the prominent exploration technique for unconventional gas reserves, hydraulic fracturing, or ”fracking”, has quadrupled in a year.
Unconventional gases differ from conventional forms like liquefied natural gas, because while LNG can be found in relatively easily accessible sandstone rock formations, unconventional gasses are hidden in hard rock like shale, or unporous sandstone, like tight gas, or in coal seams. Environmental concerns have followed the spread of fracking from the coal seams of Queensland, to NSW and now to WA’s shale and tight gas reserves.
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The Perth Basin’s tight gas fields could hold 9 trillion to 12 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and are located near existing pipelines, according to WA Department of Mines and Petroleum records.
One trillion cubic feet of gas can provide enough energy to power a city of 1 million people for 20 years.
The WA Mines Minister, Norman Moore, said it was too early to know what an unconventional gas industry could mean for exports, although in the US net exports of total petroleum products last year exceeded imports for the first time in 60 years based on shale’s contributions.