Friday, September 30, 2011

CSG concerns - handy summary

Here's a handy summary about the concerns with coal seam gas extraction. The fundamental is that as the industry is new there is not much known about the medium to long-term effects of lowering the pressure of coal seams but pumping out the gas (and the water with it). Specific concerns are:

• Just how impermeable are the layers of clay separating the coal seams from the aquifers?

• Are coal seams and aquifers always separated? (And, how do you know when you start drilling?)

• Will fracking lead to coal seams connecting to aquifers?

• Will the wells leak? Will the casing seal the wells adequately (think Deepwater Horizon)? Will the wells be plugged properly (think Rum Jungle? What is the industry's record of cleaning up after itself?)

Queensland Gas Company says the majority of view of hydrologists is that over time water will always flow from high pressure to low pressure areas regardless of permeability Now here's the kicker QGC says it won't be a problem in our lifetimes. So what they are saying is lets take the profits now and lets shift the problems to the future. A case of not paying for what economists call externalities. In the ninenteenth century factories used to pump toxic waste into rivers and let those who live downstream take the consequences. Now we the downstream is the future, our children and their children and so down to the nth generation.

The concerns from farmers is the damage that CSG does to their land, to the surface of the land. The web of roads and other facilities that go with CSG extraction. It is different from other sorts of mining. And there is the problem of what happens to everything that comes out of the ground apart from the methane that is pumped away - salty toxic water.

Abuse of language

Language is used and abused to pursue particular interests. An appreciation that was reinforced for me recently when I read of plans to use 'waste' to make resin pellets to fire power plants in South Australia. The 'waste' is the pulp that will no longer go to the Tantanoola Pulp Mill (Tantanoola is being closed because it is too 'small' in a global context. Small is beautiful is not something that industry embraces.) Woodchipping started with a plan to utilize the 'waste' from logging, now forests are clearfelled and only a small proportion of the timber is actually cut into timber, most is chipped and pulped. Woodchipping spearheaded the industrializaton of logging based on 'waste', and resin pellet will continue this trend, all in the name of being green, all in the name of utilizing 'waste'. Words just slide around.

The other recent notable abuse that I came across was the statements made by Queensland State Mining Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe that fracking is a 'very small' part of coal seam gas extraction. He's right. Here's what he actually said: "The scientific advice I have is that fracking is at the moment a very small part of what's required as part of oil and gas operations here in Queensland." The scientific is a nice touch. Fracking does not have much to do with science; it is a mining operation. Using 'scientific' lends support, though. But the key is what Stirling has not said. It is what he left out. Fracking is a small part 'at the moment'. It's about 5% but that's for now; in the future fracking proportions will grow. The industry is being coy about it, and reading between the lines about 30% of mines will eventually be fracked. And my guess is that it will be much higher. It is early days in CSG extraction so not much fracking is required to extact the gas. A point the minister conveniently did not mention.