Gas is the way to go, if only we could

Various technical topics related to science, energy, climate change and coal & gas.

Gas is the way to go, if only we could

Postby HVPA_research » Sat Nov 06, 2010 6:14 am

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Sydney Morning Herald (November 5,2010) published an important article "GAS IS THE WAY TO GO, IF ONLY WE COULD" where Belinda Robinson laments that the resource industry is prevented to solve all our energy and climate change problems by evil Greens and backward environmentalists. The article elicited 41 comments and some of these are well worth reading.

It would be comfortable to dismiss the article as a piece of propaganda from big resource companies. They usually start with some true statements, then go into half-truths and finish with a calculated self-serving deception. However, Belinda Robinson is not a lowly spin doctor, she is chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, she is a "mover and shaker", she goes to conferences and she sits with the Government and CSIRO (see extract of her CV from a conference ). Belinda Robinson must know exactly what she is saying and why.
    • Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA)
    • Participate in Government’s Reference Group responsible for developing a national energy security policy
    • Participate in CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship Advisory Committees.
    • Chairs the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network
    • Chairs CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship Advisory Committee
    • Master of Environmental Law from the Australian National University

Belinda is correct in the first part of the article. Yes, we, as an advanced Western society, are facing big energy availability and social problems. Yes, our generation has done rather well from the fossil fuels and at present it is politically almost impossible to propose any changes that would involve lowering of the present high living standards. People simply want "business as usual". Any thinking person must know by now that we cannot have unlimited, for ever growth on our small planet. Unfortunately, our "movers and shakers" keep telling us that this is possible and, frankly, do not provide good role models in sustainability themselves.

NSW will need about 60 per cent more electricity in 2030 than it does today. In carbon intensity, NSW's electricity supply is second only to brown coal-powered Victoria, and it has the highest rate of sulphur dioxide emissions because about 90 per cent of NSW electricity is sourced from coal.

Why will we need 60 per cent more electricity in 2030? Is the population of NSW going to increase by sixty per cent or will the same population live 60 percent less opulently? This figure is bandied around a lot and if someone actually publishes assumptions used in their computer model we are sure to find that these represent "business as usual scenario". Achieving energy sustainability using this scenario will be extremely hard as documented in "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" by David MacKay for United Kingdom. We need similar modeling done for Australia. If we fail to mend our unsustainable ways we are destined to experience the scary future painted in "The Dark Mountain Manifesto".

The NSW gas industry faces similar issues. Though gas-fired power stations emit up to 70 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than existing coal-fired plants, the industry's expansion is stridently and paradoxically opposed by the Greens and other environmentalists.

Where did this 70 percent figure came from? It used to be quoted as about 45 per cent, which is actually correct. Burning coal, which is practically pure carbon, produces almost entirely carbon dioxide (CO2) that goes straight into the atmosphere. Burning methane gas (CH4) produces carbon dioxide and water - thus the 45 per cent theoretical advantage. However, the coal seam gas industry is very different from the conventional natural gas industry. In conventional natural gas projects it is possible to base a whole industry, such as WA Northwest Shelf, on drilling just a few holes. On the other hand, Queensland coal seam gas industry will need over 40,000 gas wells to feed their liquefied natural gas (LNG) Gladstone project. This is because, in contrast to the conventional natural gas, CSG is a very diluted energy source that requires enormous industrial effort to extract. When all this is considered, and the environmental effect of methane leaking from the huge network of gaswells, pipelines and compressor stations added, it is turning out that burning CSG may be actually just as bad or worse then burning coal (see "Scientist tarnishes natural gas's clean image"). Talking about burning coal, we have not heard recently very much about the "clean coal" technology, which was all the rage couple of years ago. Did that fizzle out too?

NSW needs more energy - and it needs cleaner, affordable energy. Outright opposition to viable and sensible energy options is not only a vote for the status quo, it impedes the thoughtful and intelligent energy debate that we need to have.

Yes, we do need to have a thoughtful and intelligent energy debate and not only for NSW but for Australia as a whole but it must be a genuine, open debate without the spin. Spruiking coal seam gas as the answer to the climate change and our energy problems is completely irresponsible. How can we trust the coal seam gas industry if one of their principal spokesman, (should it be spokesperson?) fails to mention that there are environmental downsides and risks in the CSG industry. It operates under obsolete legislation and it is prepared to hide the use of toxic chemical in their hydraulic fracturing processes. How can we support an industry that still does not know what to do with all that saline produce water they are prepared to pump on our land and into our rivers.?

Belinda Robinson also conveniently overlooked that most of the coal and gas deposits are located under our best agricultural, residential and recreational lands and that there is a growing land use conflict. Does she realise that the "environmentalists" she hates so, are in fact mostly farmers who feed the country? You can't have coal for Breakfast!

Finally, it is a height of hypocrisy to talk about coal seam gas as the answer to all our future energy needs when the production practically all major Australian gas projects is already committed for sale on overseas markets. It is completely irresponsible to base the whole economical future of Australia on exporting coal and gas to China.

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