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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coal Seam Gas fugitive emissions monitoring to be tightened

Updated: 17 April, 2013.
The Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet today unveiled proposals for better monitoring of emissions from coal seam gas (CSG) production. A discussion paper sets out proposals to introduce new CSG-specific measurement and estimation methods into Australia’s greenhouse gas reporting framework.

This comes at a time of rising widespread concern on fugitive CSG emissions of methane released during CSG extraction and production. Methane over short time periods of 20 years is 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, while for longer time periods it is about 21 times as powerful.

Companies have developed gas fields in Queensland without doing baseline studies, making it difficult to substantiate claims of increased diffuse emissions caused by fracking operations. Local residents near gas fields report contaminated water in bores and a number of health issues and symptoms.

The Lock the Gate Alliance, which has brought together farmers and environmental activists, has campaigned hard on the impacts of CSG. Strong civil disobedience blockades against coal seam gas exploration in the Northern Rivers region early in 2013 at Glenugie and Doubtful Creek, forced Metgasco to withdraw from all exploration work.

For background read RealClimate on Fracking methane (April 2011) | Four Corners - Gas Leak! (April 2013)

The proposals in the discussion paper include making it mandatory for CSG facilities using hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technology to use direct measurement rather than paper calculations for vented fugitive emissions from well completions and workovers.

It is proposed the new direct measurement methods would be available from 1 July 2013. They would become mandatory for facilities using fracking from 1 July 2015.

The discussion paper foreshadows further changes to emissions estimation methods, including:

  • Developing Australian-specific emissions factors for CSG well casings and leaks from production and from processing facilities, using data from the joint DIICCSRTE-CSIRO research project;
  • Conducting research into methods for estimating “diffuse” CSG emissions beyond gas wellheads;
  • Developing a new method for estimating emissions from decommissioned CSG wells.
Refinement of emissions monitoring follows upgrading in 2011 of EPA standards on fracking introduced in the United Sates. Dr Samantha Hepburn, an Associate Professor in the School of Law at Deakin University and an expert on coal seam gas regulation, explained that the primary motivation for these changes is the scientific evidence from the United States suggesting that the hydro-fracturing process employed in mining is likely to generate more emissions than conventional gas methods:
"These proposals follow on from the proposals introduced in 2011 by the United States EPA where specific requirements for measurements and sampling from wells utilizing fracking were introduced. Of particular interest is the refinement proposed for Method 4 which, in its basic state, provides CSG operators with the option of using a generic method for vented emissions. The new proposal is consistent with the new US EPA requirements which provide for the continuous measurement of flowback volume using recording flow meters. Flow meters must be operated according to appropriate industry standards. Further, the new proposal mandates well sampling. This is consistent with the US EPA MRR 98.233 (g)requirements for measurements from a sample of wells for a specific period to determine a backflow rate as a proportion of the production rate with respect to all wells within a particular basin."

"The US Sampling requirements have been specifically designed around the circumstances of the US gas extraction industry. The borrowing of these measurement refinements are unlikely to generate significant problems given the geological similarity of the arid landscapes in Australia and the United States. It should, however, be borne in mind that the US industry incorporates a greater number of shale gas mining than Australia where the number is relatively low. Fracking is utilised more consistently with shale gas given the higher density of the subsurface involved. In light of this it is important to ensure that fugitive emission measurement and calibration refinements, especially the sampling requirements, properly accommodate these differences. However, the particular importance of tailoring measurement, calibration and sampling requirements for CSG emissions within a carbon constrained economy, where climate change mitigation is increasingly imperative, provides strong justification for the implementation of higher-order methods."

It is abundantly clear from the recent Four Corners Report that State Governments (both Liberal and Labor) have rushed the approvals process for CSG exploration and production, including giving insufficient time and resources to environmental and health assessments associated with coal seam gas activities.

While many rural and regional people are concerned with contamination of underground water and changes to water tables due to fracking, even the residents of Sydney should be concerned over proposals to drill and frack in Sydney's water catchments.

According to Professor Alan Randall, Head of Agricultural & Resource Economics at the University of Sydney,
"Modeling suggests that the CSG industry eventually could produce as much greenhouse gas as all the cars on the road in Australia. Methane and carbon gas emissions from CSG gas-fields and liquefied natural gas processing facilities are important components of the CSG industry’s atmospheric impacts. Until recently, emissions from LNG facilities were much better understood than emissions from gas-fields."
"The Discussion Paper recommends substantial advances in monitoring emissions from gas-fields, moving away from back-of-the-envelope methods and toward direct measurement of site-specific emissions. Where fracking has been used, direct measurement would be mandated. These recommendations take one more step toward better CSG policy for Australia, and more effective policy implementation.”

Greens say CSG approvals rushed with out regard to precautionary principle

Greens leader Christine Milne said in a statement that increasing measurement standards was a belated admission by state and federal Governments that they had rushed the approval process without the necessary scientific assessments of likely impacts.

"This is a shocking breach of the precautionary principle and another example of the Labor and Liberal parties racing into the arms of the miners and not being able to be trusted to look after our agricultural land and water," Australian Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne said.

"We need a moratorium on the roll out of CSG and these new conditions should apply to all existing operations immediately and their carbon liabilities adjusted accordingly.

"Why should CSG companies get away with this for another two years and not have to face the full price of their methane emissions immediately?

"The Greens have been calling for in-field measurement of methane emissions and an introduction of a water trigger for the EPBC for years and they have been ignored as the Gillard Government has not wanted to put any barriers in the way of the miners.

"Now with an election looming and residents in Western Sydney complaining and rural communities up in arms, the Gillard Government has come up with a voluntary monitoring scenario.

"The Minister needs to explain why the improved monitoring regime will only be mandatory for CSG operations where fracking has been used. What about other types of CSG operations?

"Neither the Gillard Government nor the Abbott opposition are taking the precautionary principle seriously and would prefer to give the big tick to the miners with no questions asked."

The discussion paper, Coal Seam Gas: Enhanced Estimation and Reporting of Fugitive Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the NGER Measurement Determination, has been released for stakeholder comment.

As fugitive emissions affect climate change, we are all stakeholders in maintaining a safe climate for our children and future generations. I urge you to read the discussion paper and make a short submission, if you have the time. Interested parties may make submissions by Wednesday 8 May 2013.

  • Australian Science Media Centre 16 April 2013 - RAPID REACTION: Monitoring of emissions from coal seam gas production – experts responds
  • Climate Change Minister Greg Combet ministerial media release, 16 April 2013 - Better Monitoring of Emissions from Coal Seam Gas production
  • Greens Media release 16 April 2013 - Get Serious and Impose CSG Moratorium Now: Greens

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