It's a gas: inside a CSG test site

Some have accused the coal seam gas industry of being secretive, conducting its planning process via lobbyists behind closed doors, getting operations approved before people know what’s happening in the paddock next door and keeping as quiet as possible.

Not Gerard Pol.

The 30-year veteran of the petroleum industry has been drilling a coal seam gas (CSG) test bore at Oakdale, 5km from Warragamba Dam, for joint venture partners Apex Energy and Ormil Energy.

Now he’s finished and plugged it with cement, Pol wants to move on to the joint venture’s controversial sites at Darkes Forest, some of which are in water catchment ‘‘special areas’’, to sink some bores there.

And he wants you to know all about it.

An experienced driller and oil field manager, Pol is the exploration manager for both Apex and Ormil, as well as operations manager for Ormil - on top of his regular job as operations manager for Perth-based Focal Petroleum Engineering.

Pol wants people to know more about the industry, not less, and is confident this will make it more palatable.

To this end, the

Pol is drilling into the Illawarra Coal Measures to test whether there is enough gas - mainly methane - in the coal seam to make for a viable production well.

This involves sending the drill rig about 560m into the ground, through the sandstone to the bottom of the coal seam.

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VIDEO: How the CSG exploration process works

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Both opponents and proponents of CSG seem sure that if the public knew the full facts, the industry would be either banned (say opponents), or accepted (say the proponents). Of course, it is easier to be open about gas drilling plans once they have been approved by the regulators.

Ormil managing director Tom Fontaine complains about the ‘‘misinformation’’ surrounding CSG. He says there is a coal mining lease located much closer to Warragamba Dam than the CSG test bore, but it draws less attention.

Mr Fontaine portrays coal seam gas as good for the environment, even calling it righteous - but misunderstood.

‘‘We are a small company, and we don’t have to do this project,’’ he said.

‘‘But the facts are: NSW needs the energy, gas is much cleaner than coal, and renewables are not economic yet. This is a righteous and positive project.

Righteous or otherwise, opinions differ. Pol seems to have set Apex and Ormil on a path to more openness about drilling activities. Whether more information will bring more acceptance remains to be seen.

Read the full story in Review in Saturday’s Mercury

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