<a href="https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Gas creates a stink

Credit: iStockphoto

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We are now seeing a clash between food security, environmental risks and energy security in a low carbon world. There are no easy answers. Gas, so much cleaner than coal, could be providing a quarter of the world's energy within 20 years and Australia, with over 100 years' worth of coal seam gas ready to be piped to the surface, is in a great position.

Think about it. Substituting gas for coal at Australia's power stations - it produces half as much pollution - would actually do away with the need for a carbon tax or carbon trading system to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to promised levels. Not only that, there are cashed up customers in nearby Asia ready to pay top dollar for long-term gas contracts and move away from coal.

So are we about to enter a golden age of gas? No way, coal seam gas is raising a real stink in Australia.
First, there are concerns that the government is relying on industry-funded research to back claims that gas from coal seams was significantly less damaging to the climate than coal. What we need are some independent studies.

Then we have the farmers locking their gates to the mining companies. They don’t want to see arable land lost to gas companies as it was lost to coal companies a century ago. ''Once you use agricultural land for mining, that's it. You can't eat coal or oil or gas,'' said one farmer.

"(It) is not about stopping coal or coal seam gas exploration or mining," National Farmers' Federation President Jock Laurie told Reuters. "It is about empowering farmers and giving them a greater right to negotiate proper commercial terms for access to their properties."

Timothy Duddy, a farmer who stood as an independent candidate in the last NSW state election, says it’s about holding the mining companies accountable, something they’re not used to. “Good fences make good neighbors, but at present the mining industry is not prepared to be fenced out of anywhere,’’ he writes. “They say they do no harm, but all around we see evidence to the contrary.”

Business commentator Robert Gottliebsen says the mining companies are managing this very badly by treating farmers with such contempt.

It’s created a political storm. The Greens want to introduce legislation into federal parliament which would require mining companies to get written permission from farmers before entering their property. Finance Minsiter Penny Wong, a former environment minister, is a big supporter of liquefied natural gas. "The government does see LNG as a cleaner-burning fuel and an essential part of the global solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

Meanwhile Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who has to look after his Coalition partners in the Nationals (who support the farmers) and who has to stay sweet with Australia’s multi-billion mining industry, has dug a hole for himself. He is now furiously backing away from his previously unqualified support for the farmers. Abbott is trying to have it both ways, saying the farmers have a point but at the same time refusing to back the Greens legislation, claiming they’re against all mining anyway.

And then there are environmentalists who reject the argument that gas should be welcomed as a stepping stone between dirty coal and renewable energy. There have been heated meetings in Sydney over coal seam gas mining, with most of the anger directed at Dart Energy which has an exploration licence to drill for coal seam gas in the Sydney region. Environmentalists say they need to know what the risks are, what the threats are, and whether the community could recover from a major accident. No one wants to see an accident wiping out prime farming land or contaminating a city’s water supply.

Clearly, there’s a conflict. Farmers’ concerns are real and environmentalists have good reason to be worried. The government will have to manage this better. Food security, environmental risks and energy security are all important. They need to be reconciled.