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Coal Seam Gas Expansion Ignores Serious Issues

By Ian Lowe

Coal seam gas extraction is expected to expand despite a cautionary report into the risks.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

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Coal seam gas has been the subject of heated disputes in recent years. Extracting methane from coal seams was originally a safety measure to reduce the risks of mining, but the huge volume of the gas in coal measures has led to investment in extraction as an energy source.

There could be a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if the methane was being burned directly to replace coal-fired electricity, but the reality is not that simple.

Often the proposal is to liquefy the gas and transport it long distances, using much of the energy. The gas might then be converted to electricity, throwing away another two-thirds of the energy. And methane inevitably leaks into the atmosphere from gas production, eroding the greenhouse benefits. When you add in the impacts on groundwater and fertile land, it is obvious why there is strong opposition to the rapid expansion of coal seam gas production.

Dr John Williams, former Chief of CSIRO Land and Water, has produced a detailed scientific analysis of the industry for the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors. The first conclusion is that CSG is “no different to any other land use development within a landscape”. In other words, it should be properly regulated like other land uses, subject to the same laws and regulations, and neither demonised nor cosseted.

As his report shows...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.