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DIRTIER THAN COAL?

Researchers at Southern Cross University have used a specialised measuring device and recorded elevated levels of methane in the air above the Tara gasfield in Queensland. Below is a graphic which shows what the coal seam gas mining industry claims is happening and what is actually happening.
  • Researchers at Southern Cross University have used a specialised measuring device and recorded elevated levels of methane in the air above the Tara gasfield in Queensland.
  • The scale and distribution of methane levels in the gasfield suggests that the gas is probably migrating up from the coal seam via cracks and fissures in the ground.
  • Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (at least 21 times more powerful then carbon dioxide) but current accounting of emissions under the carbon price ignores these types of uncontrolled emissions from the ground.
  • Fugitive emissions on the scale foreshadowed in this study would dramatically increase the climate change impacts of CSG, potentially making it far more polluting than coal.
  • If properly measured and accounted, the carbon price liabilities of these emissions may make the CSG industry in Australia economically unviable.
Firstly, commission a thorough independent study of the scale of fugitive emissions from coal seam gas mining, including emissions directly from the ground.

Secondly, implement a revised greenhouse gas accounting method to ensure that these 'fugitive' emissions from coal seam gas mining are accounted and paid for.

And, ultimately, put in place an immediate moratorium on coal seam gas exports from Australia until further study has been done to verify the results of this research.

  • Current estimations of fugitive emissions from coal seam gas wells in Australia use a factor of 0.12% as the percentage of methane leakage during production.
  • This is based largely on research from America in the 1990s which is now considered likely to underestimate leaks and which did not consider uncontrolled emissions escaping through the ground.
  • This new research from Southern Cross University looks set to discredit current accounting methods for fugitive emissions.
  • The research suggests the greenhouse impacts of coal seam gas production are many orders of magnitude worse than any estimates to date.
  • As a result, coal seam gas companies (such as AGL, Origin, Santos and others) may face a carbon price liability that may render the industry uneconomic.
  • Methane gas is held in coal seams by water pressure. Coal seam gas (CSG) mining involves drilling a borehole into the coal seam, and then pumping out this underground water. The removal of the water allows the gas to flow up the borehole to be captured.
  • Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique that is used to encourage gas to flow along a borehole by cracking the coal seam. It involves forcing sand, water and chemicals into a borehole at high pressure.
  • The many pathways for gas to get to the surface include natural cracks and fissures in the rock strata above the coal seam, existing water bores, old uncapped drill holes, cracks created by fracking, or direct seepage through the soil and rock strata.
  • Removing the water from the coal seam reduces the pressure that has held the gas in the coal seam for many millions of years. The gas is then free to flow along any pathway to the surface – not just through the borehole.
  • Fracking can lead to fractures being created not just in the coal seam but also in adjoining rock strata. These fractures may then become a conduit for methane gas to be released into the atmosphere.
  • Natural rock systems generally contain numerous cracks and fissures through which water and gas migrate either upwards or downwards depending on pressure.
  • Existing water bores, that may have been drilled many years ago, also create a pathway from aquifers to the surface which also act as a conduit for migrating methane gas.

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