Fugitive furore set to flare up again

FUGITIVE emissions from coal seam gas extraction are set to hit the forefront of debate again with news that the federal government is seeking to re-examine the issue.

James McGrath

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has called for submissions on how best to measure fugitive emissions in light of a “number of recent developments that are relevant to the estimation of coal seam gas fugitive emissions”

Chief amongst these changes is legislative change in the US.

In 2011 the Federal Government US Environmental Protection Agency concluded a review of reporting methodologies for natural gas extraction.

This led to the introduction of new methods for the estimation of fugitive emissions from gas extraction, including requirements for additional direct sampling and measurement from wells where hydraulic fracturing is used.

While the review’s authors said there were vast differences between CSG and shale, it is seeking submissions on how best the lessons learned from that process can be applied to the Australian context.

The news comes just as the Australia Institute has considered the question, with senior economist Matt Grudnoff telling media the numbers may have been severely underestimated.

"Gas is increasingly being seen by some as a 'bridging fuel' in the fight against climate change, yet because we don't accurately measure the amount of leakage at wellheads, we have no way of knowing if we're actually reducing our emissions by switching from coal to coal seam gas," Grudnoff said.

Aside from the environmental damage such emissions could cause, Grundoff said the government had another reason to investigate the rumours.

He said a potential consequence of underestimating fugitive emissions from CSG is that it blunts the impact of the carbon price as firms will not be paying the tax on all of their emissions.

For example, an extra 62 million tonnes over three years is equivalent to giving CSG companies more than $1.5 billion.

"If emissions from coal seam gas are significantly lower than actual emissions then there is no incentive for CSG producers to introduce world's best practice. This means Australian taxpayers are effectively subsidising this industry to be inefficient," Grudnoff said.

"Before we jump into the golden age of gas, it is essential that the federal government commits to finding a way to better measure the effects of coal seam gas extraction."

While the Institute is calling on the federal government to spend $200 million from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax toward measuring fugitive emissions, the federal government is calling for submissions.

The submission window has been extended to September 14.

This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication EnergyNewsBulletin.net.