Groundwater characterisation and disposal modelling for coal seam gas recovery
Thesis DisciplineCivil Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Coal Seam Gas (CSG) is a form of natural gas (mainly methane) sorbed in underground coal deposits. Mining this gas involves drilling a well directly into an underground coal seam, and pumping out the water (CSG water) flowing through it. Presently, CSG is under exploration in New Zealand (NZ); however, there is concern about CSG water disposal in NZ mainly because of the controversy that this activity has generated in some basins in the United States (US). The first part of this thesis studies CSG water from a well in Maramarua (NZ) and compares it to water from US basins. The NZ CSG water from this well had high pH (7.8), alkalinity in the order of 360 mg/l as CaCO₃, high sodium (334 mg/l), bicarbonate (435 mg/l), and chloride (146 mg/l). These ions also occur in US CSG waters, and their concentrations follow the same trend - high sodium, bicarbonate, and chloride with low calcium, magnesium, and sulphate concentrations. Prior to this work, little detailed analyses of CSG water quality variability from a well had been carried out. A Factor Analysis of 33 Maramarua samples was conducted and revealed that about one third of the variations were due to sample degassing, which induced calcium carbonate precipitation - this was supported by experimental work (sample sparging) and geochemical modelling (MINTEQA2). This finding is important for CSG water management because, as calcium concentrations decrease, higher SAR values are generated, and this can cause problems if CSG waters are disposed on land. In the second part, this thesis assesses the potential environmental effects of disposing CSG waters in NZ by formulating management options and a simple wastewater treatment system. This was carried out by studying the ecological response (soils, plant, and aquatic life) resulting from CSG water disposal operations in the US, and by applying relevant salinity and sodicity guidelines to the interaction between soils and CSG waters from Maramarua. This work showed that similar problems are likely to occur in NZ if CSG water disposal takes place without proper controls. Such a study has never been carried out in a region before actual CSG development has taken place, so this work shows how to quantify the effects arising from CSG water disposal prior to full scale production. This can be particularly useful for CSG stakeholders wanting to develop this resource in other regions around the world. A simple treatment system using Ngakuru zeolites has proven effective in reducing the SAR of Maramarua CSG water. Laboratory results indicate that these zeolites work by exchanging sodium cations in the water by other cations contained within the zeolite structure but with slow ion exchange kinetics. The calculated sodium absorption capacity for these natural zeolites ranged from 11.3 meq/100g to 16.7 meq/100g (flow-through conditions without previous regeneration). In addition, these experiments showed that the ion exchange process is accompanied by some dissolution (sulphate, boron, TOC, sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium and reactive silica), but mainly at the beginning of the treatment process. Nevertheless, using this system, 180 grams of zeolite material were used to treat an initial 1.83 litres of Maramarua CSG water thus reducing potential soil infiltration problems to nil. As more CSG water was treated, the zeolites kept reducing SAR values but at a lesser rate until 4.53 litres of CSG water had been treated. A step-by-step methodology to assess treatment design options for these materials has been developed and will aid future researchers and engineers. This thesis presents the first comprehensive study of CSG water management in NZ. It also presents an ion exchange treatment system using natural zeolites already available in NZ. In conclusion, the research finds that, whether through adequate management or active treatment, CSG waters can be safely disposed without creating major environmental problems, and can even be used in beneficial applications.