Seems now that we should stop coal seam gas, what are the pros and cons?
Stop Coal Seam Gas... Why?
"We must Stop Coal Seam Gas!!!" seems to be the cry going up now in the fashionable green movement and its supporters, such as Get Up!
The trouble is there is a lot of bluster and noise, backed up by a concern that such a method of extracting methane from the ground is going to result in massive environmental pollution. Of course, there is an element of truth in this, but the risk is not qualified with the likelihood of that risk occurring and the benefits obtained for taking that risk.
First off, what is methane?
Methane is a naturally occurring gas, according to wikipedia it is either used primarily as a fuel source or as part of industrial processes. Its fuel use is one we shall focus on here, to quote:
"Methane is important for electrical generation by burning it as a fuel in a gas turbine or steam boiler. Compared to other hydrocarbon fuels, burning methane produces less carbon dioxide for each unit of heat released. At about 891 kJ/mol, methane's heat of combustion is lower than any other hydrocarbon but the ratio of the heat of combustion (891 kJ/mol) to the molecular mass (16.0 g/mol) shows that methane, being the simplest hydrocarbon, produces more heat per mass unit (55.7 kJ/g) than other complex hydrocarbons. In many cities, methane is piped into homes for domestic heating and cooking purposes. In this context it is usually known as natural gas, and is considered to have an energy content of 39 megajoules per cubic meter, or 1,000 BTU per standard cubic foot."
So its a very useful form of energy to use in electrical generation and is able to do so with less carbon emissions than say burning coal.
On the face of it, this sounds like an excellent idea, drill down to where the methane is, tap it and burn it at a well head generator to produce electricity with a carbon and environmental footprint less than burning coal.
So what is the problem with it?...
If one thing contributed to giving Coal Seam Gas a 'bad rap' it was the movie Gasland, especially the scene of the chap lighting the water coming out of his tap. Basically the premise is that 'fracking' causes the gas to get into the water table, so thereby effecting the water supply. Obviously tap water you can burn isn't a quality one would want. See the clip below.
Now the question is, did the actual fracking do this or was something else to blame... Well..
Actually Gasland did not present the full facts of the matter, see this article , I quote:
"Fox’ documentary Gasland, claims that fracking, a way of drilling for natural gas, has polluted water and endangered lives. One of the most alarming scenes is when he lights water that residents claim has been polluted by fracking. It is dramatic and at first glance seems like a slam dunk. I mean they can light their water – it is polluted and there is gas drilling nearby. It must be responsible.
But then a little digging reveals a few inconvenient facts. A 1976 study by the Colorado Division of Water found that this area was plagued with gas in the water problems back then. And it was naturally occurring.
As the report stated there was “troublesome amounts of methane” in the water decades before fracking began. It seems that in geographical areas gas has always been in the water.
But Josh Fox knew this and chose not to put it in Gasland."
So basically the key premise behind Gasland was a fiction.
What about real coal seam gas extraction pollution?
Well unless I'm missing something a search on Google Australia for the phrase "coal seam gas pollution" turns up nothing substantive to demonstrate any pollution events.
I did manage to find this which is a good audio about coal seam gas by an academic in the field; seems he has a pragmatic approach to getting out the gas whilst protecting the environment.
So whats all the fuss about?
Well it looks like yet another largely fact free environmental scare campaign - more about scaring people over things they don't understand to curry opinion and influence policy.
Basically, we need to do better than this and see through such scare tactics; unless proven otherwise it looks like coal seam gas extraction could be a step in the right direction to reduce our environmental impact - which has to be a good thing right?
Okay, that got a response. It appears that the issue here is actually one of the coal seam gas extraction without due consideration to the environment, for an example see here. Now companies cutting corners and not doing the right thing by the environment is a real issue and something that should be dealt with. Although by the same argument, this is something any other business could 'commit' by ignoring regulations to protect the environment..
I'm really after seeing that the process of gas extraction is examined in its own right distinct to how well (or not) it is being done. Only then can be established what is the correct way to do it, with respect to the environment, which can then be set as the benchmark or standard the drillers need to follow.
Also given that farmers are not getting real compensation for pollution events caused by the drilling on their land is something else which should be addressed - they didn't ask for pollution on their land so should be compensated.
As regards the fossil fuel point made, yes, I agree it is not renewable - but there is actually very little that is truly renewable when you take the time line out to more than 30 years - the only real winner at a cost point that works is hydro which only certain places are blessed with.
Also the current generation of solar and wind is under constant refinement and technical development, to a certain degree committing to them now large scale while they are expensive and not at the top of the 'tech maturity curve' will mean they will be replaced well before their expected end of life, so leaving us with a load of old tech to dispose of and more money to found for the new tech. Current Solar and wind is not viable without large government grants and those grants ultimately come from us. The monetary aspects in energy production is something that is always going to be a major consideration.
I'm reading through your article now. I have a question, under what conditions would you consider coal seam gas recovery to be safe? To be honest the Gasland flaming tap case has far too much drilling history to say clearly its the gas extraction for me.
Do you have documents that sort the issues by each drilling site? Makes it that much easier to look at each as a distinct incident. thanks.
Answers: Away from people, agriculture, sensitive lands and water resources. No, there are thousands of wells and we're volunteers.
I give up posting links to this site mate. I spend the time writing a response with links as requested and you filter tells me I'm swearing or spamming - even with one link. Also, if you get the code wrong you lose everything rather than a second challenge! I really give up. This blog is useless!
Google "England suspends coal seam gas fracking" and "Class actions shake BHP" and "AGL warned over coal seam well leak" and "60 Minutes Undermined" (watch the last one for flaming bores in Queensland)
What a foolish, unreaseached, biased article. The damage is already being done, which is being investigated by who - oh the industry paid scientists and specialists. These are not scare tactics - this is people's lives and environmental disasters that are happening all over the world. Countries such as France & Germany have banned it - the UK have a hold on it as they believe it's causing earthquakes ..... go search properly, you will find.
Ok, I checked the UK searching for 'coal seam gas' against UK google. Got a press release from Eden Energy confirming approval to drill two days ago and an article from the start of year stating the Tyndall Centre want to ban coal seam gas extraction citing earthquakes.. Seems to be going ahead in the UK from the time line.
Basically, point me directly to incidents of problems with the extraction that show the fundamental principal is unsound and I'll change my mind.
Ah, I found the original article from BBC Lancashire. Looks like they stopped due to the possibility of a link between an earthquake and the drilling and extraction - which seems very sensible to me to see if the two were related.
Although given how 'Swiss Cheese' some parts of the UK are with old mine workings there could be other causes - I remember years ago a massive hole opened up in the middle of Norwich due to very old mine works no one knew was there...
CSG is not the only way to obtain gas or energy. It is not 'clean', it certainly isn't environmentally or socially friendly. There are many issues with CSG and especially fracking. GetUp! have only just put out their support, asked for by people affected directly and those who support them and are concerned by CSG. Conservatives, liberals, conservationists, farmers, urban and rural towns are joined on this issue. It is not a 'fad' or 'fashionable', it is very serious for some.
There are real problems for real people, now, in Australia and overseas.
I have seen the 'Debunking of Gasland' put out by the gas industry and it has been debunked in turn. There are too many risks and unknowns associated with the 'gas boom'. There is lots of information out there, but you won't get any 'bad news' from the government or industry. There have been accidents, pollution, contamination, blowouts, spills, health issues, charges laid against companies, water depletion and lives adversely affected.
Hi Mr Eco Guy,
You obviously do not live on the land? I do...
Besides Wiki & Google, has your exhaustive search found its way to any of the solid media reports available?
The Four Corners report on CSG in Queensland!
Apac on Fox/Austar for ongoing CSG Forums? These are forums with real real landowners & farmers asking the questions!
You will find methane & polluted water is only part of the issue, For more info try googling more than Wiki...!
Someone coming under the banner of ECO should already have this knowledge?
Well going by your Eco Guide & extensive research, the thousands of Australian landowners & farmers affected by the rapid expansion of CSG have nothing to fear & must be wrong on all fronts, which means you must be right because you are "THE ECO GUY" !
yes Brett, if farmers are not being adequately compensated for having wells dug all over their land - that is a problem and something that should be properly addressed. Also some direct links would be helpful, I would like to understand this more.
But I want to focus right down on the actual act of getting the methane out of the ground and looking at that in its own right and when it is environmentally viable.
So you do a google search and suddenly you're an authoprity on the subject? Do some proper research then come back and speak to us. I live near gas wells, take a look at how careful these companies are, this is near my house, do you want to live in a gas field like me? well do nothing and you will.
Hi Eco Guy, you say in regard to pollution from CSG " ...unless proven otherwise it looks like coal seam gas extraction could be a step in the right direction to reduce our environmental impact ..." what about looking at it another way - until CSG extraction has been proven to be SAFE to the environment, and that the extraction methods are proven to have LESS carbon footprint than coal (it might burn cleaner but getting it out is very dirty and destructive indeed), let's just leave it alone and concentrate on developing and implementing sustainable and renewable energy sources. there is plenty of evidence and information (if you google just a eeny weeny bit more) of the destruction and damage that CSG extraction inflicts on the environment and health. there is mostly industry rhetoric supporting CSG as clean. CSG is just another FOSSIL FUEL in finite supply, so we shouldn't be relying on a dinosaur to get us out of this problem because we'll just be digging ourselves a great big dirty black hole to fall in to in another few years. the issues surrounding CSG are very real and very serious, and it demands greater scrutiny and research than is demonstrated in your article. for the sake of us all, please pursue this issue a bit further and get the real dirt facts. thanks
I can live without air for three minutes, I can live without water for three days, I can live without food for three weeks, I can live without coal seam gas forever. Our nation's food and water security are far too important to be destroyed by an industry that self regulates. Talk to the Collins' from Chinchilla and see how they and there farm are affected, then talk to Dayne Pratzky from the Tara Estates and see how his life is affected - engine noise/ lighting 24/7... take yourself out there and have a look. I have.
Agreed self regulation is not the way to control and monitor a business which is so tied into the land, literally; but that gas has a high monetary value and some business sooner or later will try to mine it.... I'd focus on fixing the regulation.
From a scientific perspective (I am a 5-decade career biological chemist and after 40 years still teaching agricultural science students at a major Australian university), coal seam gas (CSG) developments should be stopped for three major reasons as set out below..
1. Coal seam gas exploitation despoils and depletes nature, agriculture and aquifers.
2. According to data from the WBGU that advises the German Government on climate change, a 75% chance of avoiding 2C temperature rise means global zero emissions by 2050 and no more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted in the interim. Australia had already used up its ”fair share” of this terminal global greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution budget by mid-2011. Accordingly, the best scientific advice is that we should be stopping existing coal and gas extraction and certainly not be developing new avenues for polluting the atmosphere.
3. Methane (most of natural gas) leaks and is 105 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time frame and taking aerosol impacts into account. Significant methane leakage means, for example, that with existing power plants in Victoria, Australia, at a 3.3% systemic gas leakage (the US average) burning gas for power is roughly as dirty GHG-wise as burning coal and at 7.9% leakage (as from fracking-derived gas in the US) burning gas for power can be twice as dirty GHG-wise as burning coal.
For a detailed, documented analysis see my carefully researched article “3 reasons the World must stop coal seam gas (CSG, coalbed gas, coalbed methane”, Bellaciao, 22 October 2011: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article21302 .
your second point is quite interesting yet absolutely impossible to implement. How can we reduce global emissions by 2050 to zero, China certainly is not going to stop its emissions if we stop selling our coal - they will just buy it from someone else to our financial disadvantage. Even if we do zero our own emissions, how much Co2 will have being burnt in supplying the equipment to allow us to do that??
Also the WBGU are a government funded think tank on climate change - nothing in their mission statement indicates that they are required to be base line objective and realistic in their analysis and funded research. Also I see no Cost benefit analysis figures, i.e. how much is would cost to go to zero emissions? Information like this is important to make properly qualified decisions.
Note: I do care for the planet, just that we only have finite resources to do finite actions - so doing actions with global intent based on weak analysis is just bad decision making to me. There is a real danger of unintended consequences.