Methane stunt claims far from factual

April 27th, 2016

NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham has admitted that his latest media stunt – lighting methane seeps in the Condamine River – was dangerous, telling Canada’s national broadcaster that he probably wouldn’t do it again.

In a widely viewed video clip, Buckingham can be seen lighting naturally occurring methane bubbles using a BBQ lighter – with entirely predictable results.

Quite apart from the fact that the same stunt has been pulled by fractivists before him –  the self-proclaimed Frackman and US filmmaker Josh Fox being the best known examples – Buckingham ignores the weight of independent scientific research which has so far not shown a definitive link between fracking and the presence of methane in the river.

Instead, he chooses to attack and question the independence of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), accusing researchers of ‘making excuses’ for the coal seam gas industry.

It’s a typical tactic of anti-industry activists – create a stunt, then decry the qualifications/independence/experience/knowledge of anyone who dares to disagree with the aforementioned stunt.

In a hyperbolic piece to camera, Buckingham blames fracking, calling for people to vote green to stop the coal seam gas industry.

Quite what a NSW Upper House MP was doing floating about on a river in an entirely different state is not clear, but one thing is obvious – Buckingham’s vehement claim that the methane seeps have been caused by fracking does not stand up to scrutiny.

In his most recent media release, Buckingham calls for governments to stop the spread of coal seam gas and for the true impact of fugitive emissions to be independently assessed.

If he spent as much time understanding the extensive research that has been done on fugitive emissions as he does pulling stunts, perhaps Mr Buckingham would be better informed.

The Condamine River issue was first identified in 2012, with a Queensland Government commissioned review finding no conclusive evidence that the seeps were caused by fracking.

The review looked at the history of reported issues in the region, noting that gassy bores have been recorded in the area for more than sixty years – well before any coal seam gas development occurred.

In fact, the report went further:

“The Unit’s preliminary investigations showed that the tenure is held by Origin (on behalf of Australia Pacific LNG) with four Origin coal seam gas (CSG) wells positioned within a five kilometre radius of the reported bubbling location; the closest being approximately 1.4 kilometres from the reported bubbling location (Appendix A). All of the nearby Origin wells are cased and are not part of a producing field.

Further, there are no CSG pipelines in the immediate vicinity, while the nearest production fields are approximately 10 kilometres away from the location. Additionally, there was no evidence of hydraulic fracturing having occurred within 40 kilometres of the reported bubbling.” (page 6 – our emphasis)

The CSIRO has looked at methane issues in detail for many years.

In this 2014 report, they say:

“When analysing methane data, careful consideration should be give to the following issues:

  • methane occurs naturally in groundwater and in the vapour phase of the unsaturated zone, especially in areas where there is coal seam gas;
  • methane concentrations will have been exacerbated by depressurisation caused by pumping for water and conventional gas development over time, as well as exploration for oil and gas before any coal seam gas development occurred;
  • changes in methane may be due to a range of causes other than coal seam gas development. In many cases overseas, investigation of complaints have found that poor maintenance of water bores resulted in microbially‐mediated methane production as a cause of changes in water quality. Presence of nearby landfill sites may be another source of methane;
  • the coal seam gas development is somewhat different from many other industries due to the number of extraction wells required at relatively close spacing, the areal extent of the development and the number of companies involved;  
  • variability with time of measured methane concentrations due to sampling and analytical error and processes leading to presence of methane in the water bore; and  
  • variability of concentration of methane and related constituents within each of the different sources of methane.”

The emphasis in the quote above is ours.

Of course, none of this suits Buckingham’s narrative, so he instead accuses the CSIRO of making excuses for the gas industry.

Presumably he is referring to the industry funded Gas Industry Social & Enrvironmental Research Alliance (GISERA), which was established in 2011 with the following purpose:

“The partners in the Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) initially invested more than $15 million over the first five years to research the environmental, social and economic impacts of the natural gas industry. Our initial research focus was on coal seam gas developments in Queensland, Australia.

The Alliance has now expanded into New South Wales and includes partners Australia Pacific LNG, QGC, AGL, Santos, Origin Energy and CSIRO. The Alliance also receives funding from the Australian and New South Wales Governments.”

GISERA’s Governance Statement clearly sets out how CSIRO maintains its independence.

Again, none of this suits the story arc of anti-industry activist groups, so it is conveniently ignored.

What makes this misleading and dramatic demonstration more galling is that activists are now insisting that Governments and regulators must prove that the river seep is naturally occurring and that it is not a result of fracking occurring in the region.

So, forget that a properly conducted scientific examination has determined no link with fracking, and that history shows seeps having occurred for decades.

In the activist mind, it is still incumbent for someone to offer more definitive proof.  In the meantime, we are expected to accept the activist claim – itself based on no evidence whatever.

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