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Coal seam gas: an environmental disaster

There are many coal seams around the world that, for one reason or another, have not been mined. They often contain methane, a gas that can be used as a fuel and when extracted can yield high profits.

If only the methane was removed and none of it escaped into the atmosphere the environmental consequences would be largely limited to just another fossil fuel being extracted and burned with the usual climate change and ocean acidification implications.

However, the removal of the methane from a coal seam is not as simple as the removal of natural gas from an oil and/or gas field. One concern is the leakage of methane, a very strong greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. But probably the biggest and most damaging consequence will prove to relate to the huge quantities of generally saline water that are removed with the gas.

This page written 2017/08/30, modified 2017/10/02 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David K. Clarke)
 
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The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) was set up as a statutory committee in 2012 by the Australian Government. They produced a report on the proposed Narrabri coal seam gas project which was released in August 2017.

It seems to me that this project is very likely to have unacceptable long-term environmental consequences. To me the main concern would be that the proponents would bring many tonnes of salt to the surface which would then have to be disposed of. They estimate that salt extraction will peak at 115 tonnes per day from years two to four of the project. Quoting from the IESC report:

"Key potential risks of the project include: salt and chemical management and disposal; groundwater depressurisation and drawdown in aquifers within the project area and surrounds that may impact groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) and other groundwater users; and changes to surface water flow and quality as a result of discharges to Bohena Creek. Potential areas at risk from these impacts include: landowner bores in the northern portion of the project area, outside the Pilliga State Forest, overlying areas of gas extraction from the Hoskissons Seam; Hardys and Eather Springs; Bohena Creek downstream of the discharge location; and areas of co-produced brine, salt and waste are stored (SIC).

The proponent has identified potential landfill facilities for disposal in the region but notes that most have limited capacity for additional waste."

Bringing 115 tonnes of salt each day for years up from a coal seam, where it is stable and doing no harm, and dumping it at or near the surface is madness. I worked for 30 years in the hydrogeology (underground water) field. I am very familiar with the problems of salinity and groundwater. If this project goes ahead it will ultimately be an environmental disaster; maybe not in five or ten years, but certainly in the longer term.

Jeremy Buckingham, NSW Greens MP produced a media release on 2017/08/29 calling on the NSW Premier to cancel the Narrabri coal seam gas project.

There are renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels that come with very little environmental risk, such as solar photo-voltaic, solar thermal and wind farms, as pictured on the right. Why risk the future of good quality farmland when we don't have to?

See Narrabri in Wikipedia.

Anti-coal seam gas organisation, Lock The Gate, has a net page on the Narribri CSG proposal.
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On the Internet

A glossary of the energy debate; The Conversation.
Renew Economy; AGL ridicules Coalition request to keep Liddell [coal-fired power station] open extra 5 years.
The Conversation; Why coal-fired power stations need to shut on health grounds.
More coal doesn't equal more peak power, Alan Pears, The Conversation, 2017/09/13.

The big three Australian power generators see no future in coal

AGL's statement on the Liddell closure.
Energy Australia boss says there are much better options than keeping the old Liddell coal-fired power station running for a few more years.
Origin Energy boss regects coal


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