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Call for research to deal with salt mountain

Leading water scientists in Australia have said more research is urgently needed into the environmental impact of Queensland’s burgeoning coal seam gas wells, ABC News reported on 30 August.

The number of coal seam gas wells, a means of extracting methane gas from coalbeds, is expected to rise from 4,000 to 30,000 in Queensland in the next 10 to 20 years. A byproduct of from the operation of the new wells is expected to be some 30 million tonnes of salt—too much to store in evaporation ponds. So new ways of dealing with the excess need to be found.

The Queensland government wants the salt to be converted into marketable products. But Chris Moran, from the University of Queensland, says that more storage will need to be found.

“If we have the capability to store nuclear waste, and we do, then we should have the capability to store salt for the future,” he said.

According to Craig Simmons, a researcher from Flinders University, the increase in the wells and the need to remove water before extracting the gas could also put pressure on fragile underground water systems used by the state’s farmers and towns.

“We are not in a position to really put our hands on our hearts and say we know with absolute certainty what the impacts are both in local terms and cumulative terms for this industry,” said Simmons. “There is really the potential for very serious consequences for this sort of activity if we’re not careful,” he added.