Laws are in place which restrict the use of BTEX chemicals in fraccing. Under the laws, the BTEX chemicals, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene cannot be added to fraccing fluids.
BTEX chemicals can occur naturally in water sources and are also found in commonly used machinery products like oil or petrol. So, in some instances trace levels of these chemicals may be detected at a fracced well site. Restricting the use of BTEX in fraccing fluid will help ensure BTEX levels do not exceed the Australian environmental and human health standards in groundwater.
BTEX standards apply to all new and existing petroleum, geothermal and greenhouse gas storage operations as a condition of their environmental authority.
Detailed operating and monitoring conditions that regulate fraccing activities are prescribed on each environmental authority. These conditions are legally enforceable and heavy penalties apply for non-compliance.
One of the requirements in the environmental authority is for operators to carry out a detailed risk assessment which considers up to 26 potential risk factors, including:
- details of the proposed chemicals to be used
- the toxicity of the chemicals and their mixtures
- the geology of the seams being fracced
- the practices and procedures to ensure the fracc is contained within the target area
- environment and human health hazard and impact assessments.
The matters that are relevant to the environmental risk assessment change depending on the type of resource activity being carried out, the depth of the target reservoir and location of environmentally sensitive features near the fracc site. However, above all, the risk assessment ensures that companies have carefully considered all the relevant potential risk factors before each fracc so that risks are mitigated and unforeseen impacts do not occur.
In addition to the requirement to carry out the risk assessment, environmental authorities require that companies, prior to carrying out fraccing activities, undertake comprehensive water quality monitoring of both groundwater in the well to be fracced and in landholder bores. Monitoring prior to fraccing activities is also carried out through baseline assessments and bore assessments under Chapter 3 of the Water Act 2000.
Close monitoring of the fraccing process itself is carried out to ensure that the activity is going according to plan and that no interconnectivity of aquifers occurs. Fracc flow-back water and water quality in surrounding water bores are also monitored by the companies.
Government and landholders must be notified at least 10 days before undertaking any fraccing activities and 10 days after the activities have been completed.
These notifications include detailed completion reports, which include site specific geological data, process information and a summary of the operations performed at each stage of the fraccing process including the volume and type of chemicals used). There are also requirements for independent and departmental audits of fraccing operations.
In the event that serious environmental harm is caused by fraccing activities, individuals may face fines in excess of $400,000 or five years imprisonment. A corporation may be fined a penalty in excess of $2 million.