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Science Says World Must Stop Coal Seam Gas Exploitation

By Dr Gideon Polya

23 October, 2011

Anthropogenic  global warming (AGW) is threatening Humanaity and the Biosphere. In particular a huge threat is posed by the 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  the World 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”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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: http://lockthegate.org.au/csg-facts/csg-factsheet.cfm ).

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: http://lockthegate.org.au/csg-facts/csg-factsheet.cfm ).

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: http://climatecommission.gov.au/topics/the-critical-decade/ ).

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: http://www.green-blog.org/2011/08/01/shocking-analysis-by-country-of-years-left-to-zero-emissions/ ).

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, 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: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716  and   Shindell et al. (2009), Fig.2: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only  ).

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": http://yvcag.blogspot.com/2011_08_01_archive.html ;   Gideon Polya, “Oz Labor's Carbon Tax-ETS & gas for coal plan means INCREASED GHG pollution”, Bellaciao, 27 August 2011: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article21140 ; 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.cornell.edu/news/attachments/Howarth-EtAl-2011.pdf ).

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”: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ ).

Dr Gideon Polya currently teaches science students at a major Australian university. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has recently published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007): http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1445960.htm ) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has just published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot..com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot/ bengalfamine_programme.html ). When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya's huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/ .  





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