New Zealand must learn from Queensland's experience
with coal seam gas, writes Green Party energy spokesman Gareth
Drew Hutton, of the Lock The Gate Alliance Australia,
recently wrapped up his tour of the country in Gore.
On his tour, he warned of a plague sweeping rural Queensland
destroying farmland, threatening water supplies, and eroding
the communities that rely upon them. That plague is the coal
seam gas industry, for which our Government is rolling out
the red carpet.
Coal seam gas is methane, trapped underground in coal beds by
millions of tonnes of water. It is accessed by pumping the
water somewhere else. It is similar to shale gas, another
source of methane trapped deep down and being explored for
widely around New Zealand.
Largely accessed by horizontal drilling and fracking, these
two new unconventional gas sources are core to the
Government's energy strategy.
Coal seam gas production and exploration are relatively new
in New Zealand but exploration is expanding rapidly around
the country. There are 13 active exploration permits
targeting coal seam gas, five exploration permit applications
in process, and there is one active mining licence. The most
advanced company is state-owned Solid Energy, which has been
drilling for and producing coal seam gas in the Waikato since
2009. It has had a big local impact in Australia and could
wreck New Zealand's goal of 90% renewable generation by 2025.
Scientific research around the world is only just catching up
with these new forms of gas production. A recent paper from
the Australia Institute calls for more research into
emissions from an aggressively expanding coal seam gas
Methane is a relatively potent greenhouse gas with a high
global warming potential, 72 times that of carbon dioxide
averaged over 20 years, according to the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. New research from the United States
shows the carbon footprint of shale gas is perhaps more than
twice as great as coal on the 20-year horizon. Over the next
20 years, to ensure a stable climate, it is crucial we reduce
emissions, not increase them.
Coal seam gas proponents claim that its uptake will lower
emissions by replacing energy generation from coal. This may
be the case overseas, but in New Zealand with about
two-thirds of power generation already renewable, it could be
more likely to displace new renewable energy development as
it is to displace coal-fired generation. It is a concern for
New Zealand after a recent run of new geothermal and wind
Energy investors may wait to see if a gas rush arrives before
committing to further renewable energy projects.
A coal seam gas background paper by the University of
Technology, Sydney, highlighted: "without an effective cap on
emissions there is little price incentive to go to fuels with
lower emission profiles than gas, and the intensive
development of unconventional gas resources may simply
provide a further cheap source of fossil fuels and divert
investment from lower emission energy options, such as
renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency".
There is no reason to believe this will be any different in
New Zealand has a choice. At the moment generous tax
write-offs, low royalty rates, and an ineffective Emissions
Trading Scheme pricing of carbon at $NZ5 a tonne are just
some of the ways the Government is prioritising fossil fuels
over renewable energy. Instead, the smart money should be on
In 2010, international investment in renewables first
outstripped fossil fuels, and the global clean energy market
has been forecast to reach an annual value of $590 billion to
$800 billion by 2015. Investment in renewables means more
than just reducing emissions and environmental harm.
Investment in renewable energy also means new high-value
Mr Hutton has told rural communities how the coal seam gas
industry has been bad for agricultural communities in
Australia and for the climate.
Let's also remember we have good economic opportunities in
clean energy that comes with no environmental risks.