Benefits of switch to CSG may not be all they seem

SMH - Paddy Manning - 8.10.2011

But the oil and gas industry is asking too much if it wants Australians to incur the costs of a coal seam gas (CSG) boom, without clearly identifying the benefits.
Until lately it has been widely assumed that gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, with lower greenhouse gas emissions. The rise of unconventional gas extraction – whether from shale, coal seam or tight sand gas fields – has called that assumption into question and guess what, the answer is frightfully unclear.
It would be fair to say most of the data is old or industry-funded or based on different practices used for extraction overseas. Or hidden.
The basis for the assertion is a WorleyParsons study on the relative emissions intensity of CSG, which APPEA commissioned but has not released, except for a short executive summary, saying the full report is commercial-in-confidence.
This is completely untenable. Without rehashing the entire CSG debate, the industry wants us to accept that: depletion of precious groundwater resources such as the Great Artesian Basin will be tolerable and the gigalitres of produced water will be treated and put to good use, or reinjected back underground; there will not be contamination of freshwater aquifers used for drinking or agriculture, either by salty groundwater or by injection of fracking chemicals; the millions of tonnes of salt produced during desalination will be marketed, buried safely, or something; the environmental footprint of tens of thousands of gas wells, with interconnecting plastic and steel pipeline, will be minimal and will not ruin the landscape or interfere with food production, and; the social and amenity impacts of the boom will be manageable. That we can trust this new-fangled ”adaptive” regulatory process the Queensland government has dreamed up and, yes, we might even be able to buy some of the gas in Australia, at a price, before it is liquefied and shipped offshore.
In short, the industry is asking a lot.
But if we dare to ask whether a switch to gas, particularly from an unconventional source such as coal seam gas, will actually help us tackle climate change, the industry hides behind commercial confidentiality.
Worse, under scrutiny, they shoot the messenger: a tweet this week by APPEA’s Rick Wilkinson accused the Herald of ”denying the science” – laughable when APPEA is the very body hiding it. APPEA says it will release the Worley report ”soon” but won’t say when. What’s the delay? Is it being rewritten? Sanitised? What’s to hide? Such secrecy only fans suspicions and exposes the industry to accusations of hypocrisy.
What’s shaken the debate up is a controversial study by Cornell University professor Robert Howarth, published this year in peer-reviewed journal Climate Change Letters, which rocked the gas industry, finding shale gas may in fact be between 20-100 per cent dirtier than coal once the latest science on the higher global warming potential of methane was factored in, and fugitive emissions during flowback and routine venting are taken into account.
Howarth’s study didn’t even consider production of liquefied natural gas (LNG). ”Then you have real issues,” he told the Herald recently. ”The leakage from the compression and transport of LNG is incredible. That is probably the worst thing you can do with gas.”
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