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Something in the Water

Figure Water Atlas

University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas researchers have developed a 3D Water Atlas to view data from water monitoring bores in the Surat Basin.


Realising the utility of a 3D Water Atlas for the Surat Basin Coal Seam Gas development area

Managing resource developments today requires input from and understanding of divergent and specialist disciplines including natural resource management, engineering and social sciences. Water issues are often particularly complex, not only because of natural system uncertainties but also because of the values placed on water by multiple users. Development of the coal seam gas industry in Queensland brought the management and elucidation of water issues to the forefront of community, regulator and industry thinking.

In particular, the lack of readily accessible and easily understood water data was central in fuelling community concerns about the potential impact of coal seam gas extraction on water supplies, water quality and the environment. Indeed in some cases misinformation filled the void and negatively impacted the industry’s social licence to operate.

In response to some of these issues, The University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas researchers have developed an open source 3D intuitive Water Atlas. The Atlas is a unified, soon to be publically available (via a web browser) source of groundwater level data, groundwater chemistry data, hydrogeological layers and analysis tools. The water level and chemistry data in the Atlas are from the State Government groundwater database, as well as CSG company bore and well monitoring programs. All data will gradually become publicly available as it is released by the State Government.

The Water Atlas also contains the latest geological model of the Surat Basin prepared for the State Government Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA). The Web Portal’s start-up user interface is shown in Figure 1. Bores and CSG wells are represented as pipes with blue rings indicating the casing perforations through which water is drawn. The geological model is depicted as different coloured layers with the eastern edge in Figure 1 showing where various formations outcrop at the surface. Geological structural elements such as faults, synclines and anticlines are also included in the system.

Large amounts of geological data are being collected in the Surat Basin resulting in increased understanding of the subsurface stratigraphy.  Additionally, ongoing activities of both the industry and OGIA include the sampling and analysis of water from production wells, monitoring bores and private bores. In addition to monitoring the potential impacts of CSG activity, the data is used to improve modelling and forecasts of water production and hydrochemistry from the CSG reservoirs.

The Water Atlas has been designed to enable the ongoing periodic ingest of new water level and chemistry data as it becomes available, so that new spatio-temporal trend analyses and visualisations can assist in reducing the geological and modelling uncertainty.

One feature that is enabling users to validate and crosscheck data in the legacy groundwater database with newly captured data, is the ability to visually compare casing charts, stratigraphic picks, aquifer picks and the geological layers, associated with individual bores. The formation tables in the groundwater database are based on a geologist’s interpretation of the drill core, or drilling log. That is they are a description of the rocks encountered when the bore was drilled, and in some cases this original information is many decades old. Names used to refer to formations can also change over time as new data becomes available, and the formation tables may not have been updated to reflect these changes. The geological model being developed by the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment combines information from newly drilled wells and other data sources such as geophysics. That is allowing more details to be shown for formations of interest.

Previously these comparisons would have been a tedious task requiring the interrogation of numerous spreadsheets from separate documents. An example of this comparison is shown in Figure 2. This approach ensures that there is good transparency regarding the data, as users can see the original information and also the latest interpretation, which is based on a more extensive accumulation of data and analysis.

Analysis tools

The Water Atlas has basic search functions that can be used to find a single bore or identify bores that are completed in a particular formation. In addition, there is a quality control feature that can be used to filter out bores where the water chemistry doesn’t meet specified range criteria such as an unacceptable charge balance, pH or other constituent, which indicate errors in data collection or unacceptable sampling practice. Cross-sections can be drawn and automatically rendered in 2D space with bore location and depth clearly displayed (Figure 3).

Additionally, there is the capability of interactively fencing multiple bores and displaying water level and chemistry time series for the selected bores in a single trend graph, enabling comparisons between them. A suite of basic geochemistry analysis tools such as trilinear diagrams, stiff diagrams and pie charts are also available for technical users (Figure 4).

The system

The system is easily adapted to visualise other regions with groundwater data with or without a geological model and can incorporate other analytical tools.

The Water Atlas database and overall system architecture has three key components:

  1. A PostGreSQL database with (PostGIS 2014) indexing for storing the Groundwater and Baseline Assessment datasets as well as the CSG companies’ borehole datasets.
  2. Cesium – the 3D virtual globe and map engine that enables 3D sub-surface rendering of groundwater chemistry data and geological strata using ‘ground push’ and runs on WebGL compatible browsers, including current versions of Chrome or Firefox.
  3. Content including the geological models, mapping data, digital terrain models and cadastral boundary data – that are loaded into Cesium on-the-fly and displayed as different layers.

The utility of the Water Atlas is being realised by a wide range of stakeholders from government, industry, research, and community organisations. It brings together disparate datasets that typically require expensive and specialist software for analysis and visualisation purposes. The web-based platform enables companies, government and individuals to view and analyse groundwater data within the context of a 3D geological framework.

Users from very different backgrounds can access a standard, detailed interpretation and representation of the data, and use the automated software tools to quickly access specific records and associated analyses. Most significantly, the Water Atlas has the potential to facilitate greater transparency as companies and the government can use the Atlas, as well as their own spatial tools, to disseminate information about the monitoring programs to community forums and individuals can use the atlas to monitor changes in groundwater levels and chemistry on their own properties.

The open nature of the Water Atlas makes data more transparent and means that it is faster to assess and correct misinformation or misuse of data, either from its own or other data sources.

Dr Sue Vink

Principal Research Fellow

Dr Sue Vink is a Principal Research Fellow with the Centre for Water in the Minerals Industry at The University of Queensland. Sue currently leads a multidisciplinary research program focused on providing the research solutions to enable the mining and resource sector to achieve leading practice in water and water quality management.

Sue is a Chief Investigator for the 3D Water Atlas for the Surat Basin research project, bringing together hydrological data, geological models, 3D visualisation techniques and data analytical techniques to provide industry and the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment with new methods of viewing and interrogating groundwater data. This project is also developing appropriate security controls to allow improved public access to public data.

More information about the university’s research into coal seam gas is available at www.ccsg.uq.edu.au.

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