Don’t be fooled by the coal seam gas industry’s advertising

I love The Conversation.  There isn’t a morning goes by that I don’t find at least one enlightening, fascinating, or just plain interesting article in their daily serve of articles – though I do suspect that it could be bad for my health.  Sitting with the laptop on my knees over breakfast for two hours can’t be good.  Memo to self: get up more often; and spread reading of The Conversation over the day.

Today’s “must share” story is about the three myths that the coal seam gas industry wants to have us believe as part of their campaign to sell the idea that it’s in Australia’s national interest to allow a massive expansion of coal seam gas activities.  These are:

Myth 1: The gas industry is a big employer

Rather than the 100,000 jobs that they claim were created in their industry last year, CSG employment is too small for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to measure as a separate category.  Even the combined employment in the whole oil and gas industry as at November 2013 was only 23,200 – whereas Bunnings employs around 36,000 people Australia-wide.

Myth 2: More CSG will stop the gas price rises

There is a considerable difference between the Australian domestic gas price and the price in international trade.  The domestic market will be competing more and more with that international price as export volumes increase.  Any of you who use gas in your home will have seen very significant rises in gas prices over the last five years – well, the impact of international trade contract prices hasn’t really begun to bite yet.  CSG will only bring down domestic gas prices if there is such a glut of gas in the international market that prices crash, leading to flow-on effects in the domestic market.  This might happen eventually, but not any time soon.

Myth 3: CSG can act as a low-emission “bridge” from coal to renewables

This is a longstanding argument from the CSG industry, along the lines of “Don’t worry, it’s just a transition phase, and luckily it has a lot less emissions than burning coal”.

But is it just a transition fuel – what would the lifetimes of CSG-burning power plants be, and would they be likely to be abandoned before that lifetime expired (or while there are still supplies of CSG available)?  Wouldn’t the resistance from industry and government to moving to renewables be just as great in relation to CSG resources and infrastructure as it is to the transition from coal?

As for the lower emissions from burning CSG – yes, natural gas, including CSG, does have lower emissions when it is burned to produce electricity.  However the process of extracting CSG turns out to substantially reduce its emission reduction benefits.  Fugitive emissions, including those resulting from leaks out of the ground associated with hydraulic fracking, have not been properly assessed in the approval of Australian CSG operations.  In the United States, studies on shale gas have found that fugitive emissions rates are substantially higher than from extraction of conventional natural gas.

Anyway, this is a rather long-winded introduction to the article in The Conversation, where you’ll find a whole lot more information, as well as links to further sources, including a just-published report, Fracking the Future, which sets out a lot of background information on this issue.

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