Another emissions report that should be read in context

November 19th, 2014

A new report on a previous study mapping methane and carbon dioxide concentrations around coal seam gas exploration and production sites needs to be read in context.

The study, conducted by researchers from Lismore’s Southern Cross University, is an extension of previous work by the same group of researchers, and is based on data collected more than two years ago.

The study, which unsurprisingly has been enthusiastically embraced by activist groups as a ‘dire warning’ (of what, we remain unsure) comes with some fairly significant qualifying statements in the accompanying media statement from the University, including this:

“From our data we cannot conclusively say that the elevated concentrations are due to CSG mining activities as we have no information about the area before the commencement of CSG mining”

And:

“(I)n the Darling Downs the methane and carbon dioxide can be coming from sources other than CSG such as wetlands, feedlots and vehicles.”

That’s why the report needs to be viewed in context – the researchers themselves acknowledge that there are a range of possible sources, and that there is no conclusive evidence linking elevated concentrations with CSG development.

As we reported earlier this year, an important study conducted by CSIRO Energy Technology looked at emissions from CSG activities.

In its report to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment on “Field Measurements of Fugitive Emissions from Equipment and Well Casings in Australian Coal Seam Gas Production Facilities”, CSIRO researchers found that of the 43 sites tested:

“All were found to have some level of emissions, although in all cases these were very low compared to overall production.”

The report concluded:

“(Emissions) were very much lower than recent estimates of CH4 emissions from unconventional gas production in the United States.”

The report also stated:

“No evidence of leakage of methane around the outside of well casings was found at any of the wells sampled.”

The CSIRO team concluded that the range of fugitive emission leakage measured was consistent with the emission factor currently used in the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting methodology for estimating emissions from equipment leaks

The results represent the first quantitative measurements of fugitive emissions from the Australian CSG industry.

Both the reports highlight the need for ongoing research into the environmental impacts of the Australian natural gas industry – a fact acknowledged by the SCU team:

The researchers agree this is only a first step in determining the greenhouse gas footprint of the CSG industry in Australia”.

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