Across the world, coal seam gas is being held up as a viable alternative to coal and oil. While it’s true that natural gas produces less greenhouse gas emissions than coal when burnt, the whole picture is much more complicated.
The main problem with coal seam gas is the way it is extracted. Known as fracking, the process involves pumping a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into underground shale at high pressure. Gas is then forced out of the small cavities in the rock and collected.
There are major problems with the fracking industry. For one, much of the chemical mixture pumped into the ground is never retrieved. This contaminates ground water and causes huge public health risks.
Fracking has also been known to increase the risk of earthquakes. A recent study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported a remarkable increase in earthquakes in the US since 2001. Scientists say this is a clear result of coal seam gas production.
At the same time massive amounts of water is needed for the process just to pump up small amounts of gas. A conservative estimate would put the amount of fresh water used at 795 million litres per site.
In Queensland alone the number of coal seam gas operations is set to climb in the next 20 years from just over 2000 to 40,000 wells. The laws and bodies set to govern this upsurge in are lax to say the least.
Already there have been sizable campaigns against coal seam gas across the country. Predominantly in Queensland and New South Wales, these campaigns are seeing environmentalists, small farmers and local communities uniting and protesting against the plans.
Just last month thousands of people took to the streets to protest the industry in Sydney and Lismore. In March this year protesters took over the NSW Parliament’s lower house, clearing out the MPs for a day. This is not to mention the heroic work that a number of small groups are doing blockading sites in an attempt to halt production.
The government is trying to promote the industry as a jobs boost in tough economic times. The truth is that a campaign for large scale renewable energy would bring many more jobs to communities and do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But while there are profits to be made from exploiting the earth’s resources private companies will stop at nothing to fill their pockets.
It’s not enough to just lobby governments for more green energy. If we really want to shift to an economy based on clean renewable energy we will need to take the sector off the profiteers. The anti-coal seam gas movement needs to demand that energy production and distribution be brought into public ownership under democratic community control.
The environmental movement should be aiming to link up with the workers movement in a joint campaign along these lines.
On the basis of public ownership we could then begin to develop a sustainable plan to shift energy production from dirty coal and gas and towards clean solar, wind and geothermal while at the same time protecting jobs and local communities.
By Corey Snoek