Concerns over asbestos contamination have compelled Origin Energy to suspend drilling at its coal seam gas project in southeastern Queensland.

Origin Energy has announced that drilling has been suspended at 12 rig sites in the south east of Queensland, due to concerns over a possible asbestos contamination incident.

The company said that it has suspended drilling at its Australian Pacific liquefied natural gas (LNG) project as a precautionary measure, as well as notified the authorities of the potential asbestos contamination and launched its own investigation into the incident..

According to an official statement the incident arose after Origin received reports from a supplier that drilling fluids used on the project may have been  contaminated with the carcinogenic material.

“This measure follows notification from one of our drilling fluid suppliers, Australian Mud Company (AMC) that an imported product (NUTPLUG) sometimes used in drilling fluids has been found to contain asbestos,” said Origin.

Nutplug is a walnut-shell based product which is used as a drill bit lubricant as well as for the sealing of wells.

Origin said that it has already quarantined all stocks of the potentially contaminated material, as well as checked for its presence throughout the entire supply chain from the storage warehouse to site.

Specialist waste removal experts have also been appointed to remove the material from affected locations in order to safely dispose of it subsequently.

AMC has also withdrawn the product from sale and launched its own investigation into the means by which the product managed to infiltrate the supply chain.

Origin said that it has already managed to source an alternative product as a replacement for the contaminated drill fluid, although a spokeswoman declined to comment on when drilling on the project might resume.

The asbestos scare adds further adverse publicity to Origin’s coal seam gas drilling project, which has already drawn fire from farmers and environmentalists because of its potential impact on the surrounding environment.

Origin holds a 37.5 per cent stake in the Australia Pacific LNG Project, which is one of three LNG projects in Queensland that are the first in the world to use coal seam gas for LNG.