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Dr Gideon Polya

3 reasons the World must stop coal seam gas (CSG, coalbed gas, coalbed methane)

Saturday 22 October 2011

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Humanity and the Biosphere are acutely threatened by anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and in particular by the massive and increasing exploitation of natural gas from coal seams (coal seam gas) as an energy source. Gas is dirty energy and set out below are 3 major reasons why we must stop coal seam gas (CSG) exploitation.

There is a gas rush worldwide as fossil fuel corporations seek to exploit natural gas as a source of energy. Notwithstanding the endless false claims that “gas is clean”, natural gas (mainly methane, CH4) is a dirty energy source. Thus burning 1 tonne of methane generate 2.8 tonnes of the greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) whereas burning carbon (C, the major constituent of black coal) yields 3.7 tonnes of CO2. However CH4 leaks and is 105 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time frame. Depending upon the source, burning gas for power can be worse GHG-wise than burning coal.

A major new source of gas are deep coal seams and this gas is referred to variously as coalbed gas, coalbed methane or coal seam gas (CSG). A major mechanism for liberating such gas involved hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in which water containing a variety of additives is pumped into coal seams to fracture them. This ‘fracking” process can pollute underground aquifers with fracking chemicals. Water then removed to permit gas escape from fractured coal seams can be saline and represents a major surface pollutant. For accounts of coal seam gas (CSG) extraction see “Coalbed methane”: ; see the devastating movie “Gasland” ; and see the “Coal seam gas fact sheet” on the website of the Lock The Gates Alliance of indignant Australian farmers: ).

From a scientific perspective (I am a 5-decade career biological chemist and after 40 years still teaching agricultural science students at a major Australian university), coal seam gas (CSG) developments should be stopped for three major reasons as set out below.

1. Coal seam gas exploitation despoils nature, agriculture and aquifers.

CSG exploitation (and especially fracking) will despoil the natural environment (through pollution and the scaring of wildlife through massive industrialization of the countryside), pollute agricultural land (especially with industrial plant and saline waste water) and deplete and pollute aquifers as set out by the Lock The Gate Alliance (see: ).

2. A 75% chance of avoiding 2C temperature rise means global zero emissions by 2050.

Data from the Australian Climate Commission’s "The Critical Decade" report indicate that Australia must reach zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by mid-2012 if it is not to surpass its "fair share" of the terminal global GHG budget that must not be exceeded if we are to have a 75% chance of avoiding a disastrous 2C temperature rise (see Australian Climate Commission, “The Critical Decade. Climate science, risks and responses”, 2011: ).

Indeed, according to data from the WBGU that advises the German Government on climate change, Australia had ALREADY used up its "fair share" of this terminal, global GHG pollution budget by mid-2011 and is now stealing the entitlement of all other countries including climate change-threatened countries like Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This analysis shows that the US and Canada must get pt zero emissions within about 3 years and most EU countries must stop GHG pollution within 5 to10 years (for the Awful Truth see Gideon Polya, “Shocking analysis by country of years left to zero emissions”, Green Blog, 1 August 2011: ).

Accordingly, the best scientific advice is that we should be stopping existing coal and gas extraction and certainly not be developing new avenues for polluting the atmosphere.

3. Methane leaks and is 105 times worse than CO2 as a GHG.

A coal to gas transition, that is unfortunately favored by the pro-coal, pro-gas Labor Australian Federal Government and the US Obama Administration, is an environmental and economic disaster as set out in point #2 above. However, in addition, methane (most of natural gas) is a gas, it leaks significantly and is 105 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a GHG on a 20 year time frame with aerosol impacts considered (see Drew T. Shindell et al., “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718: and Shindell et al. (2009), Fig.2: ).

Significant methane leakage means, for example, that with existing power plants in Victoria, Australia, at a 3.3% systemic gas leakage (the US average) burning gas for power is roughly as dirty GHG-wise as burning coal and at 7.9% leakage (as from fracking-derived gas in the US) burning gas for power can be twice as dirty GHG-wise as burning coal (for details and documentation see "Climate change course summary": ; Gideon Polya, “Oz Labor’s Carbon Tax-ETS & gas for coal plan means INCREASED GHG pollution”, Bellaciao, 27 August 2011: ; and also see Robert W. Howarth, et al “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations”: Climatic Change, 2011: http://www.sustainablefuture.cornel... ).

What can decent people do in the face of corporate greed threatening Humanity and the Biosphere? Responsible members of the 99% of Humanity must (a) inform everyone they can and (b) urge and apply sanctions and boycotts against all corporations, countries, politicians and people involved in the terracidal gas rush and hence in the worsening Climate Genocide that is set to kill 10 billion non-Europeans this century due to unaddressed man-made climate change (see “Climate Genocide”: ).

Forum posts

  • Yes, the World is not listening. Especial we here in the West wouldn’t like to change our lifestyles. What is the author recommending as an alternative energy resource? Nuclear?

    There is only a few solutions sun, wind, water - and of course stop driving cars.

    • The world can and must get to zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ASAP. High annual per capita GHG polluters must get to zero GHG pollution within 5 years. 100% renewable energy options include wind, concentrated solar thermal with molten salts energy storage, solar photovoltaic, wave and tide energy. Geothermal (either from vulcanism or hot rocks) is a major non-carbon option.

      The problems with nuclear in a carbon economy are that it involves huge CO2 pollution from uranium extraction, and processing, plant construction and decommissioning and nuclear waste disposal plus huge radioactive waste and security problems (e.g. Japan, Fukushima etc).

      The present market cost of geothermal and renewable energy is approaching that of coal and gas but the true cost (i.e. taking environmental impacts and human morbidity and mortality consequences of carbon burning into account) is 4-5 times lower.

      The main things stopping 100% renewable energy for the 99% of humanity are greed and lying by the corporate and politician 1% .

  • An interresting interview of Dr Gideon Polya.....

    "Dr Polya: There is some debate about whether or not genetically engineered food products should be produced at all. The arguments concerning this range from theological, to economic, social and biological. Here’s a summary of some of these arguments:

    Question Arguments for Arguments against
    Is alteration of an organism’s genotype ’playing God’? Yes, where unnatural constructs are produced with unforeseen potentialities. No, mutation and recombination occur anyway, so this is merely directing natural events.
    Is it appropriate for companies to patent transgenic plants and profit from them? Yes, the companies invest millions in development of the product, they have a right to get a reasonable return on that money. They can use some of the profit to develop more products. No, not where the companies’ control of a product is socially discriminatory, harmful, exploitative or in violation of indigenous rights.
    Are genetically engineered foods ’safe’? Yes, gene products are proteins which are digested by humans. Genes cannot ’jump’ between plant and animal species. No, ’safe’ is a relative term. Is breathing urban air ’safe’? There is always a small possibility of unforeseen consequences.
    Should genetically engineered food products be labelled? Yes, people should have the ability to make a choice. No, there is so much misinformation and disinformation in the community that people will be caused to panic and food which is potentially healthier for us will not be accepted. "

    while I agree with the author about CSG,I am a bit reluctant to hear anything he says about GE plants.......

    • As you can see I was giving 2 sides of the GM debate. It is not clear which side the objector disagrees with, not that this has anything to do with CSG of course.

    • I clearly oppose GE,as a majority of peoples who post comment on this website.
      I don’t think the tone of the Q/A in this interview is balanced.
      that was my point,but I might be wrong.
      However I think Gm food has a few things to do with CSG:there are both threats to peoples,especially in Australia where peoples have no choice on both topics whatsoever and are totally mislead.