If you dug up every ounce of the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) reserves in Queensland and used no other power source at all, they could power the entire state for the next 500 years. Under Sydney too, there are vast deposits. Enough to power the city alone for the next 65 years using no other resource. 13 trillion cubic feet of it.
It may as well be liquid gold, too, with an industry already worth more than $100 billion in Queensland alone and tens of billions more across the rest of the country. The only question now is: what kind of price do we put on the environment?
Protestors all agree that the economic benefits are huge and that gas is largely preferable to coal; but they also argue the methods of extraction are unstable, unproven and unpredictable.
They’re worried about contaminated water (which feeds Australia’s massive agriculture industry), loss of water, salinity problems created on fertile land, health related to toxic chemicals used in drilling, destruction of natural vegetation and habitats and pollution of above ground environments as well.
Let’s take a look at the industry.
What is Coal Seam Gas (CSG)?
Coal Seam Gas is the gas that is produced naturally along the fissures of coal reserves. It’s mostly methane and about ’40-50′ per cent ‘greener’ than burning coal. So among fossil fuels at least, it’s the best of a bad bunch. Environmentalists say while gas may be cleaner to burn, if you add in the effects of its total life cycle from extraction to export to burning, there is almost no difference between gas and coal.
There are vast reserves of CSG in Queensland, the biggest in Australia, but it also occurs all over Australia.
That CSG exists is not the problem, rather how it is extracted.
The gas is extracted using drilling wells. Estimates suggest Queensland alone could build up to 40,000 of the wells (on a one hectare footprint each) by 2030.
That drilling is sometimes associated with a process known as ‘fraccing’ – described as a ‘mini earthquake’ which injects a host of fluids and chemicals into the rock to stimulate the gas reserves. Those fluids can be anything from sand, water, ice cream emulsifiers, instant coffee. Yup, instant coffee. Or they can include chemicals that give humans cancer.
Here’s a really useful video that explains the process of ‘fraccing’. It needs to be noted (in fairness) that this technique is not often used in Australia (though it isn’t phased out completely), and the use of the Benzene chemical mix has been outlawed in Queensland and apparently used ‘sparingly’ elsewhere. How sparingly is not exactly known