Geophysics research group wins innovation prize

Friday, 29 November 2013

A new way to monitor groundwater developed by University of Adelaide researchers is a winner in The Australian Innovation Challenge announced last night.

Dr Stephan Thiel, Postdoctoral Fellow with the University's Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources (IMER), and fellow geophysicists in the 4D Electrical Earth Imaging group, won the Minerals and Energy category of the competition.

They have developed a low-cost, low impact, 'game-changing' approach to assessing the impacts of coal seam gas exploration and production on groundwater.

"A viable and sustainable coal seam gas industry will bring domestic energy security, export growth and substantial economic prosperity for Australia. But to do this sustainably we need to address concerns surrounding potential impacts on groundwater aquifers," Dr Thiel says.

Extracting gas from coal seams typically involves taking water from the aquifer to allow the gas to flow. Sometimes water is also injected at high pressure to stimulate the coal seam - the process known as fraccing.

The research group at Adelaide has pioneered the technique in a geothermal "frac" operation in South Australia, imaging changes underground as they occur.

They are now seeking to apply this technology to coal seam, shale and tight gas operations across Australia.

"Uncertainties remain about the possible influence and unintended impacts production methods such as fraccing may have on groundwater," says Dr Thiel.

"With this new way of looking at the subsurface we can help gas exploration companies improve their operations and we can help farmers and regulators monitor groundwater resources. It's a win-win".

"Instead of mapping fractures, we are mapping groundwater flow, which is much less invasive and lower cost than existing methods such as drilling monitoring wells or using microseismic technologies.

"We need more certainty and higher quality data. To do this we are employing real-time electromagnetic techniques to monitor underground operations."

The Australian Innovation Challenge is an annual competition in association with Shell and supported by Innovation Australia, the Federal Government organisation supporting industry innovation. There are seven professional categories.


Contact Details

Dr Stephan Thiel
Postdoctoral Fellow
Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 4868
Mobile: +61 437 400 826

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814