What is hydraulic fracturing?
Hydraulic fracturing, also commonly referred to as fraccing or fracking, is a method used by the oil and gas industry since the late 1940s to increase
the rate and total amount of oil and gas extracted from reservoirs. It has also been used to enhance coal seam gas (CSG) production from coal seams
since the 1970s in the United States of America and since the 1990s in Australia. It is estimated that only eight percent (8%) of all existing conventional
and non-conventional oil and gas wells in Queensland have been fracced.
Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping high pressure fluids into a target gas formation to fracture the rock to release the oil and gas. Hydraulic fracturing
is primarily used in the production of shale gas and tight gas. However, it is also used in the production of CSG from deeper, lower permeability coal
It is estimated that, as the CSG industry expands in Queensland, 20-40% of CSG wells may require hydraulic fracturing at some point in their lifecycle.
What chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing?
Water and sand make up 97-99% of fraccing fluids. The remaining volume is made up of chemical additives to reduce friction, inhibit bacteria growth, dissolve
minerals and enhance the fluid's ability to transport sand into fractures. The exact chemical composition of fraccing fluids varies with the geological
formation being fracced and the temperature and depth of the target formation.
BTEX refers to the chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene which are naturally found in petroleum, including crude oil and natural gas. The
use of BTEX chemicals in fraccing fluids in Queensland is strictly prohibited under section 206 of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
How is hydraulic fracturing regulated in Queensland?
The transport, storage, use and disposal of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing that may present a hazard to people, property or the environment are
strictly regulated and controlled in Queensland.
The Department of Environment and Science requires a description of the chemicals proposed to
be used in hydraulic fracturing, along with a Stimulation Management Plan, as part of the application for an Environmental Authority. The Environmental
Authority approval imposes strict environmental conditions on the storage, use, disposal and monitoring and control of the chemicals to be used in
the hydraulic fracturing process. These conditions are legally enforceable and carry heavy penalties for non-compliance. Gas companies are legally
bound to notify government of any environmental incident or breach of a condition.
After fracking has occurred, the quality and quantity of fracture flowback water must be monitored until one-and-a-half times (150 per cent) the amount
of the fluid used in the hydraulic fracture procedure has been removed from the well. This is to ensure that all the frac water that goes downhole
is recovered and reused or treated appropriately.
The Environmental Protection Act 1994 lists
general obligations and duties to prevent environmental harm, nuisances and contamination. The two primary duties that apply to everyone in Queensland
- General environmental duty – a person must not carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm, unless measures to prevent
or minimise the harm have been taken; and
- Duty to notify of environmental harm – to inform the administering authority and landowner or occupier when an incident has occurred that may have
caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm.
Workers' health and safety
Some chemicals used in fracking may be defined as 'hazardous', based on an internationally agreed system for classifying and labelling hazardous chemicals,
known as the globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals or GHS.
Workplace health and safety legislation in Queensland is administered by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and uses the GHS classification system to identify hazardous chemicals.
The Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety is an agreement between the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to harmonise occupational health and safety legislation across Australia.
Under this agreement, the Queensland Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (WHR Regulation) provide a nationally consistent framework to protect workers against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination
or minimisation of risks arising from work with hazardous chemicals. The WHS Act puts the duty on employers to do everything reasonably practical to
keep workers and the general public safe, including adequately managing the risk of chemical spills and exposure.
The following codes of practice, enabled under section 274 of the WHS Act, are model codes of practice developed by Safe Work Australia and adopted by the Queensland Government.
'Dangerous goods' is a term used to classify chemicals which might present an immediate hazard to people, property or the environment and is defined in
the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (known as the Australian Dangerous Goods Code). This Code regulates the transport of dangerous goods in Queensland.
The Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 and the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) – Dangerous Goods Regulation 2008,
administered by the Department of Transport and Main Roads (DTMR), govern the transport of
dangerous goods by road in Queensland. This includes the requirement for all vehicles transporting dangerous goods to have a dangerous goods vehicle
licence and for all drivers transporting dangerous goods to have a dangerous goods drivers licence.
The Transport Infrastructure Act 1994 and the Transport Infrastructure (Dangerous Goods by Rail) Regulation 2008,
also administered by DTMR, govern the transport of dangerous goods by rail in Queensland.
Additional reference materials