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An overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
by Elfian Schieren, 2012

1. Introduction
2. Energy and coal seam gas development
2.1 Economic viability underpinning coal seam gas development
2.2 Renewable, sustainable energy development
- Solar
- Wind
- Biogas
2.3 Coal seam gas development at a global scale
2.4 Coal seam gas development in Australia
3 Coal seam gas extraction process
- Drilling and dewatering
- Hydraulic Fracturing
- Produced Water
4 Risks to water resources from coal seam gas development
4.4 Ground water use
4.5 Water produced by coal seam gas
4.6 Contamination of Groundwater
5 Other Consequences of coal seam gas development
5.4 Impacts to agricultural production
5.5 Health impacts on humans and animals
5.6 Impacts on greenhouse gas emissions
5.7 Impacts on seismic activity
5.8 Economic impacts
5.9 Cumulative impacts
6 Potential for coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
6.1 Northern Rivers Region
6.2 Using trade-offs and opportunity costs in evaluating CSG development
6.3 Prospects for development in Northern Rivers region
6.4 Energy development in Northern Rivers region
6.5 Northern Rivers community actions and groups in response to CSG development
7 Discussion
8 Conclusion
9 References

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An overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales

Integrated Project by Elfian Schieren, 2012

5.3 Impacts on greenhouse gas emissions

The projected increase in demand for natural gas as a cleaner energy alternative to coal is one of the main drivers behind global coal seam gas production.

The burning of natural gas (largely methane) is generally viewed as having much lower greenhouse emissions compared to coal (Rutovitz et al, 2011).

According to the APPEA (2012) coals seam gas is a clean burning fuel producing up to 70% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than some existing coal technology.

Burning methane produces less emissions but when viewing emissions in terms of the entire life cycle of methane the difference between CSG and coal may not be as significant as claimed.

An Australia report into the life cycle GHG emissions from electricity sources revealed that CSG was only marginally better than coal. CSG was found to be 13-20% more GHG intensive than conventionally produced Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and only 5% less than the most efficient coal power.

The more intense extraction process creates the potential for high emissions throughout the life cycle of CSG production (Hardisty et al, 2012).

Methane (CH4), like carbon dioxide (CO2), is a long lasting greenhouse gas that persists in the atmosphere for a long time and has long term impacts on climate.

According to science CH4 is 20 times more effective as a GHG than CO2 a factor which needs to be considered when assessing the life cycle impacts (IPCC, 2007).

A paper prepared for the National Climate Assessment revealed that CH4 is the second largest contributor to human caused global warming after CO2.

Natural gas systems are the single largest source of methane emissions in the United States representing almost 40% of the total fluctuation (Howarth et al, 2012).

It seems that some climate assessments by CSG companies overlook the potential impacts of fugitive emissions from CH4 production.

Arrow Energy made only one reference to fugitive emissions in their environmental impacts statement (EIS) by “preventing flaring and venting as far as practicable” (Arrow Energy, 2012, pp. 22) at gas wells and did not mention methane leaks or include impacts from transport or production of GTL or leakages from well heads (Arrow Energy, 2012).

QGC (2012) acknowledges fugitive emissions as a possible emission source and in their EIS notes that the highest methane emissions source comes from pipeline leakages at 8.7kg/diesel equivalent CO2.

However, the time scales for these emissions were not included and nor were well head fugitive emissions. Gas wells have been reported leaking in Queensland by local surveys and government safety assessments.

Out of 58 wells tested in Tara, QLD a total of 26 were reported leaking, 5 of which were reported above the lower explosive limits of methane, meaning that the methane concentration was dense enough to ignite (Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, 2010).

Compared to conventional gas which requires only a few well heads CSG is extracted from many small reservoirs and requires a large number of well heads of different sizes which dramatically increases potential for fugitive emissions (Grudnoff, 2012).

The hundreds of kilometres of pipeline used to transport CSG also offer many opportunities for fugitive emissions.

Combined with increases in emissions from wells during and after fraccing this suggests that CSG emissions are far higher than conventional gas but still lower than shale gas and only marginally lower than efficient coal burning technologies (Grudnoff, 2012).

National and international accounting for global warming potential (GWP) of CSG operations have mostly used the 100 year horizon which places methane’s GWP as 25 times more than CO2 (Rutovitz et al, 2011).

But when the 20 year horizon was used methane’s global warming potential was nearly 3 times higher at 72 times (Hardistry et al, 2012).

It may seem optimistic to use a 100 year horizon when so much scientific evidence indicates that the next two decades will be crucial for climate change direction.

Research indicates that a warming of 1.8 degrees Celsius above the 1890-1910 base line will trigger a mass melting of permafrost in the arctic constituting a rapid release of methane into the atmosphere from decomposition of the peaty soils.

It is expected this melting will set in motion a positive feedback loop for global warming caused by trapping of more heat from greenhouse gases and reduction in surface albedo creating more heat absorption and increased melting (Anisimov, 2007).

It is crucial to include in assessments that CH4 dominates the global greenhouse footprint in the short term particularly when climate mitigation strategies over the next ten to twenty years are considered the most influential on economic and social futures (Howarth et al, 2012).


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