Coal seam gas fight is about our future

Three thousand people marched over the Seacliff Bridge near Clifton against coal seam gas mining on October 16. Photo: Michael O

Stop CSG Illawarra’s Jess Moore gave the speech below at the 3000-strong rally against coal seam gas mining that took place in Clifton, north of Wollongong, on October 16.

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Like so many people who live in the north Illawarra, there is a creek that flows through my backyard. Most of those creeks come from aquifers: the Hawkesbury Sandstone Aquifer System that the coal seam gas companies want to drill through to get the gas.

This campaign is about our future and our right to protect this area — to protect our drinking water, our food and our future.

Coal seam gas mining threatens all of these things. So when it comes to our drinking water, first and foremost, there is the water that they have to draw out of the coal seam to access the gas.

That water is highly saline and it can contain radioactive and toxic compounds and heavy metals.

The industry itself has said that over the next 25 years, they will be drawing the equivalent of 13 Sydney Harbours full of water out of the ground. That’s 13 Sydney Harbours full of contaminated water that they don’t know, yet, how they are going to deal with.

Then there is the fresh water: the enormous quantities of fresh water that they directly contaminate if they want to drill and if they want to frack. They pump that down in the ground and they can recover only as little as 20% — as much as 80% but as little as 20% — of water they have directly contaminated.

Lastly, with this industry there is the inevitable damage to aquifers. When you are drilling through groundwater systems you damage them, you change their flow.

Now here in the Illawarra, all of these approved coal seam gas wells are in and around the Nepean and Woronora drinking water catchments. It’s completely insane that they have been approved here. And it is so clear by the numbers of people who came out in May on Austinmer Beach, and the number of people who came out here today, that we don’t want this.

The next problem with coal seam gas mining is that coal seam gas is mainly methane. Methane is highly flammable and is a huge explosion risk. So where they are trying to drill these coal seam gas wells, you are looking at it: the top of that escarpment. Bushland that is incredibly prone to bushfire, and carving up that landscape.

A production field involves a wellhead every 400 to 900 metres, all connected by 20 metre-wide roads and pipelines. It means carving up that environment, and around every wellhead you have to clear 50 square metres of bushland just to put the well in.

Now I know we’ve actually got many members of the fire brigade here today because of concern of that bushfire risk. But the other side to methane is that methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.

Methane is 105 times worse than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential over a 20-year period. So any gas that escapes is going to wreak havoc on our climate.

From the minimal studies that have been done, we know that these wellheads, pipelines and processing plants leak. Moreover, we know that the water that is drawn out of the coal seam contains methane in bubbles, and after they do coal seam gas mining you get methane just leaking out of the ground.

That is what this industry is unleashing on this environment.

Lastly, when it comes to these local approvals, I want to ask a question. Who here found out that the government was going to approve this because the government told them? And who here found out because of a community campaign?

Shame on this government: you have a responsibility to come out and talk to communities about what you plan. Shame on the previous government too for granting these approvals without talking to this community.

And shame on the current government for failing to listen and for failing to do what’s needed as more and more evidence comes out about the risks of coal seam gas mining.

Stop CSG Illawarra was set up with three objectives. These flow from the precautionary principle: we need to know things are safe before we let them go ahead.



So the first thing we call for is an immediate moratorium on all coal seam gas mining.

The next thing we call for is a Royal Commission, the highest level of inquiry, into the full impacts of CSG — because the community needs to have that information before we make a decision about whether or not this can happen in our community.

And lastly, we call for a ban on hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which we know is dangerous.

I imagine many people are here today because they saw the documentary Gasland. I know that was what motivated me to act. And I think we all learned from that the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.

We don’t want drinking water that is so full of methane that you can light it on fire. We don’t want the impact on our communities that we are seeing across the US.

So we call for a ban on fracking. But I think I want to update that, and I know a lot of people in the community are talking about this, because now these coal seam gas mining companies are coming up with other names for fracking, other things that they call “stimulation techniques”.

So we are here to reject fracking and other “stimulation techniques” from ruining our environment and from ruining our drinking water.

Currently, we still have a state government that says coal seam gas is a necessary “transition” fuel. I want to put that word in inverted commas, because they’re wrong. Because we are not transitioning from or to anything. Most of this gas is for export. It’s just greater fossil fuel extraction to send overseas.

The next reason is because this is as bad, if not worse, than coal in terms of the climate. We are not transitioning if we go to a technology that is as bad, if not worse, than coal.

There is no barrier — absolutely no barrier, and we are seeing this in countries all around the world — to switching to wind, to switching to concentrating solar thermal.

And in Australia they keep telling us the lie that it’s not possible, when we have one of the greatest solar power capacities in the world and one of the greatest capacities for wind power.

If this government wants to transition, then they are going down the wrong path.

The other reason the government tells us that this is necessary is jobs. Now this is completely false.

Research by the Australia Institute shows that every time we have growth in the resource sector we see more jobs lost in other sectors — particularly manufacturing and tourism — because we get an increase in the Australian dollar. So we will see more jobs lost than we gain when we move to coal seam gas mining.

So basically, we do get new jobs when we move to coal seam gas but we get more jobs lost in other areas. We need to say a firm no to this, particularly in an area where we are so dependent on manufacturing and steel, and where we are so dependent on tourism.

Already, as a result of the community campaign, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland, we’re seeing changes.

In NSW, we’ve already got a temporary moratorium on existing fracking projects. So it’s not going to stop what is going on here, but that is an advance.

We’ve seen a ban on the use of evaporation ponds, and last week we actually saw our local council vote to put it to the state government that we need to see coal seam gas mining banned in drinking water catchments.

The mining companies and the government want to tell us that we don’t have power and that they have made a decision on this. But I think what is incredibly clear is that this is the power of community.

We are changing the tide for coal seam gas mining in NSW. We’ve not come far enough, but I want to ask you today: will you continue to come back until we stop CSG? And next time, bring five friends.

I think it’s incredibly clear that opposition to this in this community is so broad. But what is vital is not just that people know they oppose this, but that they come out and give voice to their opposition, because that is what is going to continue to shift public policy when it comes to coal seam gas mining and that is what is going to mean we stop coal seam gas mining all over NSW and here in the Illawarra.

Comments

From a scientific perspective (I am a 5-decade career biological chemist and after 40 years still teaching agricultural science students at a major Australian university), coal seam gas (CSG) developments should be stopped for three major reasons as set out below..

1. Coal seam gas exploitation despoils and depletes nature, agriculture and aquifers.

2. According to data from the WBGU that advises the German Government on climate change, a 75% chance of avoiding 2C temperature rise means zero global CO2 emissions by 2050 and no more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted in the interim. Australia had already used up its ”fair share” of this terminal global greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution budget by mid-2011. Accordingly, the best scientific advice is that we should be stopping existing coal and gas extraction and certainly not be developing new avenues for polluting the atmosphere.

3. Methane (most of natural gas) leaks and is 105 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time frame and taking aerosol impacts into account. Significant methane leakage means, for example, that with existing power plants in Victoria, Australia, at a 3.3% systemic gas leakage (the US average) burning gas for power is roughly as dirty GHG-wise as burning coal and at 7.9% leakage (as from fracking-derived gas in the US) burning gas for power can be twice as dirty GHG-wise as burning coal.

For a detailed, documented analysis see my carefully researched article “3 reasons the World must stop coal seam gas (CSG, coalbed gas, coalbed methane”, Bellaciao, 22 October 2011: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article21302 .

Dr Gideon Polya, Melbourne

Yes, let's stop CSG extraction and coal mining. As Australians, we can live with the consequences.

1) CSG only depletes the gas contained in the coals. Never mind that the coals are NOT connected to the GAB aquifers, which has been confirmed by pro farming scienific studies.

2) Ignore the past million of years of earth's evolutions that show global warming and global cooling periods, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, meteor impacts, and much more. Ignore all the science that disputes manmade impact on global warming.

3) Ignore the facts that methane has been leaking into aquifers and then the atmosphere for the past millions of years. Flaming water taps were a farm trick before CSG and coal mining, but now CSG is blamed. Water baseline surveys in the Surat Basin show some 80% of water bores have flamable gas BEFORE any industry arrived.

4) Ignore the upfront envirnomental damage with solar and wind energy options. Ignore that the total upfront environmental damage exceeds CSG upfront and ongoing emissions.

5) Ignore food and water needs energy to produce them. Or we can go 100% organic and lower food yields to pre-WW II levels, which means no food exports and only enough for us selfish Australians. Who cares about feeding others in the world.

6) Ignore the lie about heavy metals and radioactive materials. Oops that data came from one USA geologic basin producing gas from very deep shale resevoirs, not gas from very shallow coal reservoirs.

7) Ignore the royalites that build schools, roads, and hospitals. Lets' cut off all government benefits and raise taxes to cover the balance.

8) Ignore the 1000s of hard working Aussies that are no longer deamed important. Terminate their jobs because a farmer does not want to coexist and share his/her lifestyle. Coexisting with CSG happens worldwide, but we Australians are too good to have such sharing occur. And don't worry about the families of those now without work.

Absolutely, let's stop CSG extraction, mining, and anything else that impacts lifestyle. I'll deal with the consequences when I'm cold, in the dark, and starving.

More people all over Australia need to open their eyes. Stand up for your way of life! Start asking lots of questions. I can't believe Australians could stand by and let CSG mining happen around our farm lands, nature reserves and suburbs. I don't think we should suffer the consequence of smelling - breathing methane gas and drinking contaminated water. We don't want to live in fear that our suburbs could go up in a puff of smoke, especially living around areas with bushland like Woronora (which is a huge valley) we already have a threat of bushfires in this country, why increase that threat?
1) What happens about the food that is farmed around these aquifiers that will be contaminated by CSG mining? Who will do regular testing to make sure it is safe?
2)Doesn't Government have the duty to ensure that Australians have safe food to eat and clean drinking water? (Oh of course they don't have to worry about that.) Maybe there won't be any farms left in Australia once the mining companies take over. Even if the farmers have a farm that has a CSG mine neighbour, their life would be made so difficult that the farmer would eventually give in sell up and move. Any food that is produced on these farms would be very suspect anyway. Eventually we will buy all our food from foreign companies even if it is grown in Australia, or we could buy imported food farmed overseas of which most is contaminated by insecticides that are banned in Australia anyway.
3) That water that is bubbling with methane, what do we do with it? Will our native animals and birdlife be affected when they drink it?
4)Where do they pump the water to, once they have brought it to the surface? Will it go into the watercourses or the ocean?
4) Which beach will this water end up in? Every Beach? This will affect everyone!
5)As these CSG mines are going up in the Sydney Basin will we be drinking bottled water that is imported as our water won't be drinkable?
Being at the mercy of Foreign companies will of course increase the cost of living and create a larger deficit. If you think the cost of living is going up now , just wait and see what happens if these mines go ahead.
6)Once the damage is done in Australia, can it be fixed? How?
7) Will the extra mining tax that is supposed to be going to the people as compensation, be used to repair a country that is slowly being raped by greedy foreign companies that don't care what they leave behind, the Company owners don't live here, so there will be no accountability. They companies might throw a few million dollars in for a "clean up". (If they don't declare bankruptcy first. Or close their doors and start up somewhere else under a different guise.) The cost to the normal Australian is extremely high.
8)Ask yourself. Do you want to stay living in the Lucky Country?
9) If you are a new Australian, why did you move here? Because our country is naturally beautiful and you love our way of life? You need to stand up and voice your opinion too.
We are the Lucky country remember, lets keep it that way! Let some Pollies know how you feel. I am going to!

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