Coal seam gas: climate disaster brought to you by the carbon tax

The coal seam gas (CSG) industry is rapidly expanding across the country. There are even efforts to drill for CSG in central Sydney. Labor’s carbon tax is encouraging the gas rush. But it’s a disaster for the climate.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has described gas as a “cleaner energy source” and mining and gas companies argue that gas power generates fewer emissions than coal-fired power. That’s only true if you take into account the emissions from the power stations alone. As Melbourne Energy Institute researcher Patrick Hearps has said, “Taking into consideration the total life cycle emissions of coal seam gas, particularly methane, its emissions intensity is likely to be a lot closer to coal fired power.”

During coal seam gas mining, methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaks out at a higher level than during conventional gas extraction. Not only that, the extraction process is an environmental disaster. The process, “fracking”, involves pumping toxic chemicals into the ground in order to force out gas.

CSG production increased by 32 per cent a year between 2003 and 2008. Greg Combet wants more. He told Lateline in March that the carbon price is designed to encourage investment in gas. In the face of climate change, this is an insane policy. Labor could be rapidly expanding investment in renewables and providing thousands of green jobs.

Yet wind energy makes up less than 1 per cent of Australia’s energy use; despite the fact that Beyond Zero Emissions estimates it could produce 40 per cent of our power. Spain is building enough solar power plants in the next three years to replace two of NSW’s largest coal power stations, Bayswater and Mt Piper. Storage technology allows them to produce power 24 hours a day.

Labor’s priorities are skewed by their determination to protect the profits of the coal and gas industries. The $10 billion from carbon tax revenue going to a Clean Energy Finance Corporation won’t deliver any renewable energy beyond what will already be delivered by the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target.

Opposition to CSG is growing amongst farmers in NSW and Queensland whose land is threatened by the expansion. But the fight to stop CSG is tied to the fight against policies like the carbon tax.

Instead of a policy that encourages more fossil fuels while slugging us on our electricity bills, we could fight for government investment in renewables. The NSW Greens calculate three small solar thermal power stations could be built for $2 billion each. This is the sort of alternative to coal seam gas and the carbon tax that we need.

By James Supple

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