THEY don’t know for sure what’s under the ground in South Gippsland.
And so far, that scientific ignorance has been bliss for the opponents of unconventional gas mining in the area.
However, as a result of work being undertaken, starting this week, by the Geological Survey of Victoria in collaboration with Geoscience Australia, authorities will better understand the geology and hydrogeology, or groundwater resources, of the sub-region.
But it’s a double-edged sword; good news for some, not for others.
As members of the Poowong and Korumburra ‘Lock the Gate’ anti-CSG groups found out at a meeting with Geological Survey officials last Wednesday night, the results of the seismic survey will identify areas where there is no potential for coal seam gas mining at all.
But they could also clear the way to exploration and mining in other areas.
Director of the survey group, Paul McDonald, explained that when such work was undertaken in the west of the state, whole areas were ruled out as having potential for unconventional gas mining.
“There will be areas where you can say ‘there is no coal seam gas in the area’… if there’s no coal, you can’t have coal seam gas mining.”
Unfortunately for those with anti-CSG views, the survey work will also identify coal, other strata formations and water resources across the region that may be conducive to commercial activity in the future, including coal seam gas mining.
The results, to be produced as early as the end of 2015, will be a godsend to the holders of mining exploration licences in the area, offering them the opportunity to prove up the viability of the resources they hold rights to, if the government subsequently lifts the present exploration and mining moratorium.
“We think there may be a continuous band of black coal running through the area,” Mr McDonald said, due to the mining that has historically been carried out at Korumburra and at Wonthaggi.
“But just because the strata is there, doesn’t mean the resource is there,” he said.
“It could be too deep for a coal mine but too shallow to make gas…
“To be definite about there being gas, you’d have to drill.”
However, while the seismic work and interpretation of the data to follow may provide succour for the mining industry, it might also provide ammunition for the anti-CSG groups as well.
Members of the group who listened to the presentation by Mr McDonald and his colleagues last week, pressed him about the survey identifying groundwater resources and their proximity to potentially commercial resources.
“You say the survey can indicate where there may or may not be coal seam gas and also highlight the location of underground water but can you say where groundwater might be at risk from mining activity?”
Mr McDonald said one of the objects of the survey work was to construct an underground, 3-D model of the area that would accurately predict the depth of rock formations and also the location of water resources.
He said, yes, it would be able to indicate where you might have to drill through water to get to either coal seam gas or other water resources further down in the strata.
But Mr McDonald and his colleagues were quick to stress that the survey work wasn’t only about understanding the potential impact of developing an onshore gas industry in the area.
They said there was a gap in understanding of both the shallow and deep geology of the area, in the state-wide model, and such things as fault lines and water resources would also be of interest.
They said the work, which was non-invasive, would allow the group to continue building a model of the whole state, down to 40km below the surface.
“It will help Geoscience Australia, for example, when they do their earthquake modelling of the area, looking at the fault network for the region,” Mr McDonald said, noting the recent history of earth tremors in the area.
“Australia is generally very stable but we still get movement in the faults from time to time and earthquakes but this will not allow them to predict earthquakes in any shape or form.”
But, clearly in the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources’ (DEDJTR) own information sheets about the ‘South Gippsland Seismic Survey’, to be conducted over the next four weeks, the onshore gas mining issue is certainly front and centre.
Executive director of the Earth Resources Development Division of DEDJTR, Anthony Hurst, said that the Geological Survey group was happy to speak to interested community groups about its survey work in the area [phone 136 186] and was particularly keen to explain what it was doing in the area.
“The key thing is getting good science to inform the community and the government. The information we collect will have a whole range of purposes, for example, there’s a substantial fault running through the area and this will inform us about that.
“Generally, though, it’s about letting people know that if they see the trucks operating in the area that there will be no hydraulic fracturing. It will be just a couple of trucks driving down the road collecting data.
“We don’t do it often and we’d just like local people to know what we are doing.”
It was explained to the meeting last week that the data collection will involve vibration plates being lowered from the trucks to the top of the ground and readings taken for 15 seconds every 15 metres along the route.
The route will run roughly from Nyora to Mirboo North, from Grantville to Leongatha South and from Inverloch to Cape Liptrap with a north-south line linking the three routes from Hallston to Inverloch.

Have your say on onshore gas
SHOULD there be an onshore, unconventional gas mining industry in Victoria?
You can now have your say.
The Environment and Planning Committee of the Victorian Legislative Council is interested in the community’s views, insights and experiences in relation to this issue, to inform its recommendations to the Parliament.
Unconventional gas includes coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas.
The committee will examine all issues, including but not limited to:
• The potential benefits of onshore unconventional gas as an energy source for the state
• The potential risks, including risks to the environment, land productivity, agricultural industries and public health, and whether such risks can be managed
• Whether and how an unconventional gas industry could coexist with the legal rights of property owners and existing land and water uses
• How this issue is managed in other Australian and international jurisdictions
• Potential changes to our legislative and regulatory framework.
The committee invites submissions from individuals, groups or organisations addressing the Terms of Reference. All submissions are public documents unless confidentiality is requested and granted by the committee.
When making a submission you will need to advise the committee if you also wish to appear at a public hearing.
Submissions (Word documents preferred) can be emailed to: epc@parliament.vic.gov.au or via eSubmission to: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/epc/article/2657
Post to: Keir Delaney, Secretary, Environment & Planning Committee, Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne VIC 3002.
Closing date for submissions: July 10, 2015.
It is not expected to be until mid-2016 that the Parliament will be in a position to review its present moratorium on coal seam gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing.