Stephanie Dale

Stephanie Dale

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
Stephanie Dale is a journalist and author with a background of 25 years in media, politics and publishing. Stephanie believes we need to find new ways of sharing our Earth, and making way for all its people, not just those privileged by the current economic system, and all its creatures - on their own terms.
Stephanie Dale
I have two published books available - the novel Hymn for the Wounded Man and the travel memoir My Pilgrim's Heart, which was reviewed recently by the Huffington Post.
Coal seam gas wells near Tara, in Queensland (Photo courtesy Moira McDade)

Coal seam gas wells near Tara, in Queensland (Photo courtesy Moira McDade)

By Katherine Marchment

CSG is suspected to have negative impacts on the environment (water, air and soil), as well as economically and on human and animal health. The information that can be accessed about this is too abundant for one article.

Therefore, for the purposes of this article, I will concentrate only on the health impacts on residents of the Tara Estates in Queensland, which a report by Queensland Health states are unrelated to the gas fields around them.

Below is a table of some gasses that have been shown by the Australian Government National Pollutant Inventory to have been emitted from compressor stations around Tara.

Known health effects of gases listed in the table are per National Pollutant Inventory website

Gas Emissions Known Health Impacts Max Limit
Oxides of Nitrogen Irritates eyes, nose, throat, lungs, shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, buildup of fluid in lungs, death. Skin & eye contact causes burns. Inhaled or absorbed through skin NO 31mg/m3 air, N20 45mg/m3 air, NO2 5.6mg/m3 air. Water 50mg/L
Volatile Organic Chemicals Depends on Composition (over 100) General effects include: irritation eyes, nose, throat, loss of co-ordination, nausea, damage to kidneys, liver, central nervous system, cancer. Inhaled
Formaldehyde Irritates eyes, nose, throat, causes allergies affecting skin and lungs, eye and skin burns, permanent damage, asthma-like respiratory allergy, shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, chest tightness, bronchitis, cancer. Can be inhaled or ingested Air 8hr exposure 1.2mg/m3 air, water 0.0005g/L
Particulate Matter 10 PM 10 = 10 micrometers or less in diameter – human hair diameter approx. 100 micrometers No safe level
Particulate Matter 2.5 Toxic effects by absorption into blood eg lead, allergic or hypersensitivity effects, bacterial & fungal infections, fibrosis, irritation mucous membranes, increased respiratory symptoms, aggravation of asthma, smaller particulates more adverse No safe level
Carbon Monoxide At 200ppm headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, fatigue. At 400ppm hallucinations, convulsions, collapse, unconsciousness, death. Chronic low levels: heart disease, nervous system damage, birth defects, low birth weights. Absorbed by inhalation
Sulphur Dioxide Irritation of eyes, nose, throat, choking, coughing. Prolonged exposure – Inflammation of respiratory tract, wheezing, lung damage, reproductive damage, damage in development of newborns 0.02 ppm
Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons Irritate eyes, nose, throat, bronchial tubes. Skin contact allergies. High levels – headaches, nausea, red blood cell damage, liver & kidney damage, cancer, death Air 8hr exposure 10ppm, Water 0.00001 mg/L


Australian Government National Pollutant Inventory – Air Emissions data 2011/2012 Dalby Region

Gas Emissions kg Kenya Processing Plant (near Tara) Windibri Processing Plant (near Kogan) Tipton Gasfield Arrow(Near Dalby) Kogan Gasfield Arrow (near Kogan) ATP 648 QGC (Near Tara) ATP 651 QGC (near Tara) Total Emissions Tested  within 50km radius, Tara Estates
Oxides of Nitrogen 840,000 850,000 280,000 38,000 110,000 42,000 2,160,000
VOC’s 110,000 99,000 39,000 1,000 46,000 1,200   296,200
Formaldehyde 4700 42,000 17,000     63,700
PM 10 2700 8300 13,000 1,900 2,800 1,300     28,700
PM 2.5 2700 8200 79 1,900 2,800 1,300     16,979
CO 520,000 500,000 180,000 8,500 58,000 11,000 1,277,500
Sulphur Dioxide 690 640 250 13 13 0.13         1,606
PAH’s .15 0.63 0.058 0.23 0.0032 0.00015   1.071


As startling as these figures are, please note:

  1. this is not a full set of data, as testing was not undertaken on emissions from wells and pipes, well drilling and well venting, fracking and road spraying with produced water
  2. testing was not not undertaken on emissions from trucks, heavy machinery and other infrastructure bought in by the gas companies
  3. testing on processing plants not mentioned was not complete, as can be observed from lack of data on formaldehyde emissions on three plants above
  4. emissions of other gases: Arsenic & Compounds, Berylium & Compounds, Cadmium & Compounds, Chromium III Compounds, Chromium IV Compounds, Copper & Compounds, Flouride Compounds, Lead & Compounds, Mercury & Compounds, Nickel & Compounds, Zinc & Compounds not available or not included. These were common emissions from other processing plants tested
  5. no testing was done on water, and incomplete or insufficient testing was done on soil
  6. please note: the table above states emissions from six processing plants – there are more than 200 such plants in Queensland.

Residents of the Tara Estates have reported a range of symptoms since coal seam gas activity has commenced, including:

Eye, nose and throat irritation, rashes, nausea, vomiting,  loss of co-ordination, asthma symptoms, persistent coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, headaches, skin burns, fatigue, heart palpitations, chest pain, bleeding from the nose and ears, weakness, fatigue, depression, insomnia, tingling and numbness, muscle pain and spasms, twitching, fits, difficulty concentrating.

A significant number of these symptoms correlate with the health effects of toxic exposure to the gases outlined in the tables above.

Dr Geralyn McCarron (photo: from Evacuating Grounds blog)

Dr Geralyn McCarron (photo: from Evacuating Grounds blog)

The April 2013 report Symptomatology of a gas field (An independent health survey in the Tara rural residential estates and environs)  by Dr Geralyn McCarron found:

“A range of symptoms were reported which can sometimes be related to neurotoxicity (damage to the nervous system), including severe fatigue, weakness, headaches, numbness and paraesthesia (abnormal sensations such as pins and needles, burning or tingling).

“Parents of a number of young children reported twitching or unusual movements, and clumsiness or unsteadiness.”

This report is highly recommend for anyone interested in the health impacts of coal seam gas mining. It also includes: the study’s limitations, comprehensive investigation, recommendations and comprehensive references.

Testing done by Dr Geralyn McCarron on a three-year-old child living near gas fields found a volume of hippuric acid (the major metabolite of toluene) levels in urine three times higher than acceptable safe levels in Canada.

To be fair, Queensland Health also released a report in March 2013 titled Coal Seam Gas in the Tara Region Summary Assessment of Health Complaints and Environmental Monitoring Data. This is the report the Queensland government relies upon when making decisions about CSG development.

The Queensland Health report came to the following conclusions:

  • a clear link cannot be drawn between health complaints and impacts of the CSG industry
  • data monitoring does not show air contaminants at concentrations that would be expected to be associated with adverse health effects
  • evidence from Environmental Resources Management (ERM) does not indicate that residents reported health symptoms are due to CSG impacts on roof harvested water or dam water
  • in summary, the most that can be drawn from the Darling Downs Public Health Unit (DDPHU) report is that it provides some limited clinical evidence that might associate an unknown proportion of some of the residents’ symptoms to transient exposures to airborne contaminants arising from CSG activities.

Some limitations of Queensland Health CSG in Tara report include:

  • air, water and soil data relied on by Queensland Health for conclusions conducted by ERM – an arm of Queensland Gas Company (QGC) which has gas leases in the area – a clear conflict of interest
  • Dr Adam, who conducted clinics and wrote a large portion of the report, is retained as a consultant by two large coal companies – another potential conflict of interest
  • only 13 air samples were collected on nine properties on nine windy days between 3 July and 6 December  – this is not a sufficient sample for statistical analysis or for scientists to draw meaningful conclusions
  • air sampling was not conducted during ‘flaring’ (an elevated vertical stack or pipe for through which burning gas is released during the production or processing of coal seam gas), due to OHS concerns for workers. Residents are exposed to flaring 24 hours a day for one week in every four
  • elevated and anomalous results which are sufficient for further investigation have been dismissed. For example, levels of VOC’s Benzene (a known carcinogen) & Toluene (a known neurotoxin) are higher than safe guidelines
  • no data was gathered or study undertaken on chronic exposure
  • health assessments were based on small samples of total numbers affected – only 16 people were seen in person by a government appointed doctor. Surveys were ad hoc and poorly advertised
  • during the period of investigation into living in a gas development, no medical staff employed by Queensland Health visited any residents on-site
  • the report contains statements which are erroneous, including ‘Benzene is not a compound that is found in CSG and thus cannot be attributed to CSG activities’. Numerous other sources – company and government, from Australia and overseas – contradict this statement – numerous other sources say benzene is naturally found in coal seams and it is also used in fracking fluids.

“The Queensland Government report appears to be an exercise in minimisation and misrepresentation,” said Dr Geralyn McCarron.


The Queensland Health report is inadequate and flawed – it does little to alleviate concerns of Tara residents.

The Queensland Government presented this report – and  then continues to dimiss other independent reports from scientists and doctors both in Australia and overseas. It then has the gall to say that anti-CSG sections of the community lack data or that data is inadequate because of a lack of baseline studies.

“Who does baseline studies on water that has been safely used as drinking water by humans and animals for decades?”

Water that since the CSG companies have moved in is now undrinkable.

“Who does baseline studies for the 500 or so toxic substances used in the CSG industry on their healthy children?”

And if baseline studies are needed for accurate data, shouldn’t this be the responsibility of the companies and industries that intend to impose a new development on a community? Shouldn’t these studies be done before the company is given licence by the government to go ahead?