The Fight For Our Lives – Gas vs. Water

This video needs to be seen. Yes, it is a little bit dramatic and yes it is also slightly reminiscent of the opening word crawl in Star Wars but, all that aside, the drama is justified. The world and everything on it needs water. Fresh, uncontaminated water. Yet mining companies – with exploration licences in hand – are threatening local, national and international water sources with unsustainable and downright dangerous methods.

Check out what is happening as we speak in Australia…

What is Coal Seam Gas?

Coal Seam Gas (CSG) is methane that is trapped in coal seams. It is trapped by water (in pores and cleats) and are found in coal deposits that are too deep to mine.

Image originally from Action On Coal and Gas

Why is mining it a problem?

Groundwater

For me this is the scariest risk. In a country where drought is one of our major concerns the thought of ‘fracking’ is just insane. To extract the CSG water must be removed which can then affect the water levels in aquifers and alluvial systems. Mining companies cause micro-seismic (tiny earthquakes) to create pathways for the gas to move through. This is called Hydraulic Fracturing AKA Fracking. If these fractures hit the wrong places (say a fault or fissure) then hey presto! we have contaminated groundwater.

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected To Everything Else

-Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle, 1971

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

This entire industry is dirty. Coal Seam Gas is a fossil fuel – a non-renewable resource. Not only does the burning of the gas produce carbon emissions, but there are often methane leaks (which is not stringently monitored by the industry). Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, 72 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a period of 20 years, or 25 times more effective over 100 years.

Calculating how much carbon is absorbed by which forests and farms is a tricky task, especially when politicians do it.
– Donella Meadows

Conservation

A CSG well has a footprint of one hectare – which doesn’t sound all that bad. Except there over 40,000 wells in Australia as well as all the infrastructure and roads created to facilitate them. That leads to the removal of a huge amount of unique and valuable habitats.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Mohandas K. Gandhi quoted in EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.

Threats to Health

Gas wells release dangerous dust into the atmosphere which have been linked to respitory issues and cancer and affect the nervous and immune systems of humans and animals.  Gases which are release include BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Of these gases – 25% are carcinogenic; 37% affect the endocrine system; 52% affect the nervous system and 40% affect the immune system.

“I do care a great deal about the environment but my real work and my greatest challenge is trying to overcome deceits that end up jeopardising oublic healthy and safety”

– Erin Brockovich

What can you do?

Money talks. When up against a mining company that has more money than god it is a hard fight to win. The Lock The Gate Alliance  is a fantastic not-for-profit organisation which suggests – as the video also does – that people need to make some noise. Their website is a fantastic resource if you want to get involved. It has information about rallies, groups, contact details for letters, petitions and a whole lot more. Take a gander and get inspired.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) quoted in John M. RIchardson, ed. Making it Happen, 1982

If you’re interested?

If you want to see examples of fracking (and all that comes with it) then I recommend watching the Sundance Festival award winner Gasland by Josh Fox. It left me flabbergasted. Here is the trailer – check out the guy lighting his tap water on fire.. YIKES.

2 thoughts on “The Fight For Our Lives – Gas vs. Water

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Em. I am now compelled to watch Gasland in full.

    You may also want to check out the rebuttal from America’s Natural Gas Alliance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Y1W8MnveFq8#! Lots of smiles, “this is wrong”s and blanket statements without alternative evidence.

    I don’t know much about this practice – but I do know that when we mess with the natural order, our lives are affected. We are all part of the same, interconnected system.

    H :)

  2. Hi Em, another great blog post! :) as always! I know a little (not a lot) about CSG mining in Australia and it truly scares me! It is, however, fundamentally different to shale gas mining in the US with different (less stringent in many cases) regulation and different processes involved.

    There is some misinformation floating around in Australia regarding CSG which puts the campaign to limit or stop it’s exploration at risk (as these myths are easily refutable by the CSG miners.

    The first of these is the use of fracking. Fracking is used in Australia, but on a much smaller scale. Unlike shale rock, coal seams are very porous and water and gas are able to flow reasonable easily through them. The problem with extracting coal seam gas is generally that the groundwater pressure prevents the gas from flowing out of the coal matrix. If we pump the water out though, hey presto! the gas is ready to flow to the surface, to the sea and on to one of the ships that will dock at the new ports being built along the Great Barrier Reef (with obvious environmental concerns)! These are the big problems with CSG.

    Queensland (west of Toowoomba) runs on groundwater. There isn’t enough surface water to sustain life and industry at the intensity it currently has. The majority of the CSG in QLD is coming from below the Great Artesian Basin (effectively the biggest water tank in Australia). The groundwater being pumped out of these coal seams is of too poor quality to use now, but.. the geology is quite poorly known and there isn’t a lot of work being done to better understand the hydrogeology in the area. Most hydrogeologists (groundwater gurus) I know are pretty scared at what the results of CSG mining in these areas could be on the long term water resource.

    The CSG water being pumped to the surface is extremely saline and not suitable for drinking, irrigation, releasing to rivers or any other beneficial use. In the past, miners would dispose of the water to evaporation ponds and let it dry up leaving industrial salts behind. Now, there is too much water being produced from these wells to use this disposal method so the companies are starting to look at desalinating the water and releasing treated water to rivers (which the Department of Environment and Resource Management in QLD is approving). Apart from massive energy use, desal also produced a hyper saline brine which is toxic to pretty much anything. I have no idea how they are disposing of that!

    The regulation is also questionable. Many of the knowledgeable people within DERM were lured away to CSG miners with big dollars and the promise of helping the companies mine the resource “sustainably”. This has led to a dearth of regulators within the department and an industry that effectively regulates its self. (I hear this is changing slowly though).

    Sorry for the long winded comment, but from working with people who used to work in the industry, I believe that these are the big and real concerns with CSG, fracking should be banned but CSG can carry on without it quite happily.

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