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QGC seeks salty solution to CBM water fears

In an effort to overcome one of the biggest obstacles facing Australia’s coal-bed methane (CBM) industry, QGC is trialling the commercial viability of converting CBM brine into saleable products

QGC, GE and Penrice will design, build and operate a brine pilot plant (BPP) at Penrice’s chemical works at Osborne, South Australia. QGC – BG Group’s local subsidiary – is building one of four CBM-to-liquefied natural gas export plants planned in the state of Queensland.

The BPP will use technology developed by GE and Penrice to extract salts from waste water from the CBM production process and produce commercial grades of sodium bicarbonate, soda ash and sodium chloride. “Our aim is for a commercial scale plant … that will cost-effectively treat the CBM brine and produce saleable chemicals … which is the business we are already in,” said Penrice managing director Guy Roberts.

A brine solution

The BPP is part of a wider initiative by the CBM industry to investigate the technical and commercial viability of producing products such as table salt from brine, a by-product of CBM water treatment. The plant will be operational early next year and, if successful, would give the CBM industry a solution to one of the big problems confronting the sector – how to successfully deal with the water that accompanies the gas-extraction process.

The Australian CBM industry must deal with the huge volumes of water recovered as it extracts CBM. And an additional benefit of the Penrice process technology is that treated CBM water will be sufficiently clean that it can be returned to the environment, used for agriculture or as potable water.

Farmers and scientists fear CBM production could potentially devastate underground water supplies. The growing backlash against the CBM industry began in Queensland, the hub of Australia’s new gas rush, and mostly centres on water usage.

Many farmers and graziers in Queensland and New South Wales rely on bores drilled into the Great Artesian basin for water for crops and livestock. The basin – the world’s largest underground aquifer, covering 1.7 million square km – sits above many of the coal seams being tapped as part of eastern Australia’s CBM boom. On top of this, the basin is, for large parts of the continent, the only available, reliable source of water, not just for agriculture and livestock, but also for residents.

Penrice’s role is to operate and maintain the brine treatment plants and sell output from the plant in Australia and internationally. GE’s role, as a global water-treatment company, is as a technology and equipment vendor.

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