Coal Seam Gas Emissions: Facts, questions and challenges Media Release

Sep 12, 2012 - 1:00am

Claims that coal seam gas (CSG) power is more polluting than coal are exaggerated, but without proper accounting and performance standards it will not have a place in the clean energy future, finds a paper released today by The Climate Institute.

“CSG may not be as bad as coal, but there are significant questions about whether emissions from the process are being properly accounted for,” said Olivia Kember, National Policy and Research Manager at The Climate Institute and author of the paper.

Gas is often seen as the bridging source into a clean energy future, given its lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal. However demand for gas, especially via CSG production, is growing at an unprecedented rate in Australia and urgently requires accounting and performance measures.  

“Gas needs to earn a place in the clean energy mix,” said Kember. “The coal seam gas industry can’t take its role for granted; it needs to prove that it can play a constructive part in the shift to a cleaner energy economy.”

The paper finds that CSG has lower emissions than coal, and less even than some conventional natural gas. However, if CSG production increases as predicted, additional emissions from it could reach 12-23 million tonnes of CO2-e in 2020.

“Australia’s carbon price means that CSG producers will pay for their pollution, and have incentives to avoid leakage,” said Kember. “But for that system to really work there needs to be accurate accounting of how much pollution there is. With the current methods, we don’t know.”

“Government and industry need to get serious about accurately measuring and reducing gas emissions, so that gas can play a positive role leading not only to a low carbon but zero and negative emissions future. This is challenging given the number if unanswered questions surrounding CSG’s emissions profile at the moment. This is even reflected in public opinion, which is split over gas as a preferred energy source.”

Public opinion polling carried out in May by The Climate Institute found that although 28 per cent of Australians placed gas within the top three most preferred sources, 31 per cent placed it within the three least preferred energy options.

“CSG can play an important role in Australia, but to do so in the necessary shift to a zero/negative emissions energy supply, a number of steps need to be taken,” Kember said.

Specific recommendations from the paper include:
  • The Commonwealth Government should immediately commission, with funding from the CSG-LNG industry, robust independent research into the emissions profile of CSG production in Australia, with a particular focus on emissions from CSG extraction.
  • Emissions measurement and estimation methods in the NGERS Guidelines should be updated on the basis of the research findings.
  • Regulation of CSG production should be nationally harmonised, and should enforce best practices. Regulation is appropriate in the absence of bipartisan support for robust pollution pricing and for practices, technologies and equipment where accurate emissions measurements or estimates are lacking or impractical.
  • Australia needs emissions performance standards for power generators. All non-peaking gas plants must be retrofitted to 0.2 tCO2-/MWh within 15 years after construction. These benchmarks should be the baseline emissions set under the Coalition’s policy, i.e. 0.5 tCO2-e/MWh (sent-out) to 2020 and 0.2 tCO2-e/MWh after 2020.
  • In addition, under the Coalition’s climate policy, CSG production emissions associated with business expansion below best practice should be strongly penalised to incentivise investment in emissions reductions or offsets. Penalties should be set at levels consistent with reducing national emissions to the bipartisan supported 2020 target range.

“This paper focuses only on the greenhouse gas implications of CSG production in Australia, so it should be noted that there is widespread concern about other environmental, social and economic impacts resulting from the CSG boom as well,” Kember said. “Any decisions concerning CSG development must take full and proper account of all relevant impacts, not just carbon pollution.”

The full discussion paper can be found below.

For more information
Kristina Stefanova | Communications Director, The Climate Institute | 02 8239 6299
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