Posts Tagged ‘Coal Seam Gas’

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Australia’s Minister for Greenwash

13 February 2013

Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke – or as the Greens call him, Minister Against the Environment – on Monday signed conditional approvals for three new coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mines in New South Wales.

The three projects are Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine (despite Burke having said last week he would defer that decision for months), Idemitsu’s Boggabri coal mine expansion, and AGL’s 110 CSG wells in Gloucester (the first stage of a potential 330-well project). Together, they would result in 47 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. (To make matters worse, on the same day the NSW state government gave conditional approval to BHP Billiton’s Dendrobium coal mine expansion, and on Tuesday the Queensland government lifted a moratorium on shale oil.)

Burke says his decision is intended to cut the NSW government out of the process, after NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher leaked a confidential letter from Burke expressing an intention to approve the three projects. Burke claims his new approvals come with unusually stringent conditions:

For the areas that are not yet resolved, instead of giving a normal approval and say these are the conditions, I’ve said these further issues need to be worked through to my satisfaction before we know whether the project can actually go ahead. So it’s quite – even though it’s just being reported as approvals, it’s actually quite a different set of conditions to what would normally occur. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Australia embraces Paris Hilton’s energy policy

24 December 2012

The Australian government last month released the final version of its long-awaited Energy White Paper. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson’s speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) launching the White Paper was interrupted by Quit Coal protesters, one playing a fictional mining magnate thanking Ferguson for supporting the coal industry. After the protesters were removed from the stage, the audience (evidently a bunch of dinosaurs) applauded Ferguson’s retort that the demonstration said something about the education of young people and he would resume discussing “how we create wealth to create economic opportunities for those young people”. Let’s look at how the government intends to do this.

The Energy White Paper is a dry document, in more than one sense of the word. Once again I am struck by the contrast between the way the Labor government is portrayed by the likes of News Corporation, and the government’s true policies and priorities.

On the surface, the final White Paper somewhat improves on the draft version (and on the dogmatic anti-renewables stance Labor took in Multi-Party Climate Change Committee negotiations) by acknowledging the falling prices and growing role of renewables and proposing demand-management measures. This is possibly thanks to the increasing clout of the renewable energy lobby. It’s certainly an improvement on the Howard government’s 2004 Energy White Paper, which placed all of its climate eggs in the CCS basket (mainly through a $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Program which has been perpetually delayed). But instead of advocating further action as is urgently needed, the White Paper merely reaffirms inadequate existing climate policies, claiming “the Australian Government has already put in place the key mechanisms to drive a transformation to cleaner energy”.

The big picture is that the government’s fossil fuel addiction remains as strong as ever. The Energy White Paper’s key priorities include “developing Australia’s critical energy resources, particularly gas resources” (p xviii). It plans to facilitate the expansion of fossil fuel mining and export industries at a time when they should be phased out as fast as possible. It boldly says (p. 66): “Coal is, and will remain an integral part of Australia’s economy.” Gas and coal rate far more mentions in the White Paper than any renewable energy technology. In a nutshell, the shift from Howard’s Energy White Paper to Gillard’s one is from a fossil-fuel-only approach to an all-of-the-above policy analogous to Obama’s, which seems to have originated from a spoof campaign video by Paris Hilton, of all people. Read the rest of this entry ?

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A terrible week for the climate

14 October 2012

This week’s events illustrate (not that further illustration was needed) that both of Australia’s major political parties are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, though Labor hides it behind a veneer of greenwash while the Liberals are overt about it.

On Monday in New South Wales, the Planning Assessment Commission approved the Ashton South East Open Cut coal mine in the Hunter Valley. The Commission had rejected the same mine last year, but the company, Ashton Coal, appealed the decision and it has now been approved with changes. The mine is still opposed by residents.

Meanwhile, the NSW government made very clear where its loyalties lie on coal seam gas (CSG). On Tuesday, NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher told an Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference that the “industry needs to get out there and sell the message”. On Wednesday, NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard reportedly told the mayor of the anti-CSG Lismore Council that CSG development would go ahead regardless of community opposition.

Also on Wednesday, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke approved the T3 coal terminal at Abbot Point, Queensland, which is joint-owned by GVK and Hancock. The decision is in spite of UNESCO having called for no new port developments to be approved before the completion of a plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and follows Burke’s approval of the associated Alpha mine and rail line. T3 will have the capacity to export 60 million tonnes of coal per year. Assuming each tonne of coal burned emits 2.7 tonnes of CO2, when the exported coal is burned overseas it will result in CO2 emissions of 160 million tonnes per year, equal to the emissions which Australia’s domestic carbon price is intended to save. I urge readers to sign this petition to Tony Burke to reverse his approval of T3. Read the rest of this entry ?

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A dreadful week for the climate

30 March 2012

This week’s events illustrate Australia’s rush to expand the fossil fuel industry is matched only by its rush to cut climate change and renewable energy policies.

In Saturday’s Queensland state election, a major issue was coal seam gas. Both of the two major parties, Labor and the Liberal National Party (LNP), seem happy to let the industry devastate Queensland and watch the profits flow in. Only two minor parties, the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party, supported the community campaign for a moratorium on coal seam gas development. The election result was a bitter disappointment for me. True, one in five Queenslanders voted for parties opposing coal seam gas. Yet the Greens lost votes, and an almost-majority voted for the LNP. Because of the state’s unicameral single-member electorate system, the LNP was able to win almost all the seats in the Queensland Parliament and will face no significant parliamentary opposition for at least the next three years, a critical period for mining investment. I look forward to seeing whether voters will turn on the LNP when they realize the party is not so different to Labor on coal seam gas.

Prior to the election, Clive Palmer, the mining magnate who is the LNP’s biggest donor and arguably most enthusiastic supporter, accused the Greens of being part of a CIA conspiracy to undermine Australia’s coal industry. Palmer’s company Waratah wants to build the world’s largest coal mine and port, due to be approved by the federal Government in December and opposed by the Greens. On Monday, after the election, Palmer retracted his bizarre accusation, all but boasting that he had made it up to distract attention from the LNP. “It took a great lot of attention off some of the negative aspects of the election,” he said. “Who knows where the attention might have been in the last weeks coming up to the election? So it’s wonderful that you [journalists] could play a small role in having Campbell Newman elected as Premier of Queensland. […] I don’t regret having made that statement.” Environmental activist Drew Hutton has announced his intention to sue Palmer for defamation. I think Palmer’s actions are despicable. Hopefully nobody will take anything he says seriously anymore. Read the rest of this entry ?

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An unsurprising anti-coal campaign plan

6 March 2012

The Australian Financial Review today revealed a leaked Greenpeace document containing the startling revelation that environmentalists oppose the coal industry.

The document, entitled Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom, seeks to raise millions of dollars for a campaign against the expansion of the Australian coal industry. This isn’t particularly surprising: it is only logical that we need a strategy to get from Point A (Australia’s leaders believing fossil fuels are the best thing since sliced bread) to Point B (zero or nearly zero fossil fuels being burned) as quickly as possible.

The document notes the next two years are an important window to stop massive investments being locked in, and an opportunity to influence government through the Greens and independent crossbenchers who hold the balance of power in Parliament. I agree; science tells us time is fast running out, and the next couple of years will be critical.

It’s actually a pretty good campaign strategy – just what is needed to get the Australian climate movement back in motion. It lists six steps to be taken; here are my thoughts on each one:

  1. “Disrupt and delay key infrastructure.” The underway expansion of the Australian fossil fuel industry is monstrous in scale, with plans to double or triple fossil fuel exports in the near future. Both major political parties refuse to do anything to stop it, happy to sit back and watch the profits flow in. In these extraordinary circumstances it makes sense for citizens to take matters into our own hands. The document proposes legal challenges against new mines, rail lines, and port expansions. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Real-world measurements confirm gas is no cleaner than coal

14 February 2012

Figure 1: Methane emissions from natural gas fields are much larger than the industry claims. (Nature, 2012)

I have written before about why natural gas is not, as is fashionably believed, a bridge fuel to a zero-carbon economy. Even if gas were cleaner than coal, it’s still a fossil fuel and switching to it would still cause dangerous levels of global warming. But whether you can call gas a low-carbon fuel in the first place is very questionable.

Natural gas is composed of methane (CH4), and when burned for energy it results in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). Both carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. While only carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for millennia, methane has a much stronger warming effect on human timescales (~100 times more powerful on a 20-year timescale; ~25 times greater on a century timescale). A methane spike in the next few decades could set off slow feedbacks also leading to greater warming over the long term.

The gas industry and its friends in government advertise gas as “clean energy” because the carbon dioxide emissions from burning it are less than those from coal. What they don’t tell you is that along its journey to being burned, unknown amounts of methane leak out. This is particularly evident during the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) used to extract unconventional forms of gas like shale gas and coal seam gas. A 2011 study estimated that when these leaked methane emissions are taken into account, shale gas is comparable to coal over 100 years, and much worse over 20 years.

Because the industry has been uncooperative, real-world measurements of these emissions have been elusive – until now. Read the rest of this entry ?