Coal Seam Gas Mining Positively Affects Australia
Debate Rounds (4)
I submit that on balance, the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) Mining Industry has a positive impact on Australia and its people.
Balance: Shared, Con has to prove that CSG has a negative impact whereas Pro has to prove it has a positive impact.
Format: This debate consists of four rounds. R1 is acceptance, definitions and groundwork. R2/R3 are arguments/counter arguments. No new arguments will be introduced in R4.
Definitions: The meaning of the topic is fairly self explanatory, simply substitute the obvious contextual definitions.
Parameters: This is not simply a debate on the economic benefits of CSG in Australia, but a comprehensive discussion encompassing a wider range of environmental and social issues.
Geographically, this debate will be limited to Australia's Coal Seam Gas Industry.
Coal Seam Gas Mining: Coal Seam Gas, also known in the US as Coalbed Methane is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds. Controversy surrounds numerous procedures in the extraction, storage and transportation processes.
Best of luck to Con.
I don't know why Pro wished me luck. Worst of luck to Pro. Hope you have fun though!
My apologies for the tardiness Con! Time has been a limiting factor. Anyway, let's get the ball rolling!
The World’s Energy Needs are Rising
Globally, the International Energy Agency predicts that world primary energy demands will increase by 40 per cent by 2030. Thus, pursuing all viable energy generation methods is of the utmost importance. One such method of energy generation is coal seam gas mining (CSGM):
CSGM Is a Cleaner Alternative to Coal:
When converted into liquified natural gas (LNG) and used in generating electricity, natural gas can produce substantially less greenhouse emissions than coal generated electricity. Independent analysis by WorleyParsons concluded that...
“For every tonne of CO2 emissions associated with the CSG-LNG production and use, up to 4.3 tonnes of emissions are avoided when the gas is used instead of imported coal by Chinese power generators;
A CSG-LNG project exporting 10 million tonnes of LNG per annum to China could avoid more than 32 million tonnes of global CO2 emissions each year;
Over a 30-year project life, such a project could avoid 968 million tonnes of CO2, which is almost double Australia’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
Furthermore, the infrastructural surface footprint of CSG developments is generally is generally less intensive than other industries such as mining. Thus, due to the cleaner energy production potential and smaller footprint, the CSGM is a partial solution to our energy crisis.
The numbers speak for themselves. Despite being a fledgling industry, CSGM currently employs 12,113 people. That number only increases after the initial infrastructure is in place and the permanent CSG-LNG project is fully under operation. Economic studies of the impact in Queensland alone show that even a medium-sized 28 million-tonnes-per-annum (Mtpa) will generate over 18, 000 jobs, increase gross state product by over $3 billion, generate private sector investments of over $45 billion and provide royalty returns of over $850 million.
Coal seam gas mining industries affect the social dynamics on both a local and larger level. Locally, mining operations are shown to decrease the rate of unemployment. On top of this, CSGM has directly contributed over $53 million dollars to the communities. On a larger scale, this industry provides the energy needed to both maintain the high standard of living the developed world enjoys; as well as bridge the gap between this standard and the developing world.
The Coal Seam Gas Mining Industry contributes and will continue to contribute to the overall holistic wellbeing of Australia.
A farm business consultant told ABC News "I'm worried someone will pop some poor bastard from the gas companies" because "farmers feel ignored by government and powerless when dealing with the energy companies". The nature of property rights in Australia means that whilst a landowner may own their land freehold (that is, own the land as well as every immovable structure on the land, natural or man-made) the resources on their land belong to the Government. If the Government grants a CSGM company access to land on a farmer's property, then "Gas companies can legally enter private land, install wells, lay pipes and build the necessary infrastructure to compress and transport gas."(1)
One of the problems farmers see is, on top of not having any rights to the energy under their soil, there is "no set figure" in the compensation they receive from the companies who develop on their land. A senior policy director told ABC News that another source of anguish for farmers was the "invasiveness" of the industry on their land, the "inability of you to be able to manage your entire area" as you always have, and the "sheer number of people in and out of the place". He also says "gates have been left open" and "dams sullied by on ground water […] from some of their drill sites or […] pipelines that have been put in place...", another cause of stress for farmers. The infrastructure regardless of malfunction can also cause distress, one farmer saying "It will be over my dead body. There is no way I want gravel roads built across my farming land", after his cropping land had been laser-levelled.(1)
Farmers also fear that water security could be compromised. State Government experts are "unsure of what a massive dewatering of the region's coal seams over several decades will do to underground aquifers", but this doesn't stop farmers speculating on what removing up to 370 gigalitres per year from areas will result in. One farmer thinks it "quite easy for that shallower alluvium water, the water we depend on for our livelihoods in this area, just to drain down" into the coal seams, and become inaccessible or polluted, "As CSG water is usually saline". Another farmer claimed he may only have two years supply left in one of his key water bores as the water table had dropped from 15 metres to only 5 metres being available to pump, due to CSGM. Devastating effects can also stem from the CSG water should it be spilled onto the farmers land once pumped, as a previous quote indicates has already happened. The problems of salinity in the Murray-Darling have resulted in a reduction in water resources and agricultural land, and damage to urban infrastructure. (1) (2)
One farmer sold his property after 77 wells were sunk in his land. The CSGM had offered another farmer only $250 a year per well as compensation and told him he might have to move his house so another well can be sunk.(2)(3)
Four Corners also found more than half the wells on one property were leaking highly explosive methane gas. On another farm 2/3 wells were leaking even after being reportedly fixed. Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas, which has a negative impact upon the environment through global warming. (3)
The methods used in extracting the natural gas can also contaminate the environment and important water reservoirs like the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Fracking (the process of injecting chemical mixtures into wells to break up rock formations and release gases) in particular can result in contaminated aquifers which contain salty and toxic water, as has already been the case. The CSGM company responded by saying it had "unintentionally provided a route for water in the aquifer, as well as the coal measures to enter the well". This event resulted in a neighbouring farmer investigating whether the chemicals used by the company that leaked into the water supplies could affect their cattle. Upon finding the company's safety data sheet for THPS (a chemical used in fracking) was American, a decade out of date and lacking critical information, she sought a relevant data sheet which revealed THPS was highly toxic and can cause chemical pneumonia and death and also advised "DO NOT discharge into sewers and waterways". 130 litres of this chemical was pumped down the leaky well. The 23 major chemicals used in the process of fracking have also not been assessed for their use in fracking by any national regulator, like NICNAS. One farmer also heard that up to 40 per cent of the chemicals they use, including glycols and bactericides, will remain within the structure of the coal seam and can move through the groundwater. (3)
The former principal hydrologist for the Queensland Government, John Hillier, is "concerned about the long term impact the CSG industry will have on the Great Artesian Basin". He says a leakage might not be detected for 20 to 40 years, in which time the GAB can receive a "lot of damage". He's also concerned that, since regulation is now in the hands of the industry and not conducted by an independent inspector, mistakes, miscalculations and leaks will occur as tens of thousands of newly approved wells are quickly sunk. The Water Group in the Environment Department of the Federal Government also concluded that in some areas "effects of the coal seam gas developments are considerable with at least 1,000 years passing before this part of the Great Artesian Basin will return to pre coal seam gas levels." The water bore driller for a farmer whose water supply has been getting more "gassy" reasons that, as the water table is lower by the CSGM wells, pressure is taken off the gases which are then released. (3)
The list of anecdotal disasters goes on. Apart from those mentioned already, others include 120,000 litres of "dirty, salty, waste water" from a test bore being dumped into a paddock the company (AGL) owned, but which residents fear contaminated the groundwater. One AGL insider said that "It became too much to handle or too costly to handle so opted to pump it into the paddock." and "It shocked me because it was wrong." A problem many farmers see is that there is "a lot of money to be made out of this industry and in its current form" companies want to get a slice of the pie "at any cost." The farmers want a moratorium put on "coal seam gas until all the facts are known and strong legislation is in place." (3)
I believe I have shown coal seam gas mining and its industry has a negative impact upon Australia, through its environmental disasters, both in the past and speculative (as there is still so much unknown about the long term effects of CSGM), and through the stress put upon farmers, their communities and the people they supply with produce as their land is taken over by CSGM wells.
Firstly, I’d like to thank Con for raising some interesting points.
Con’s arguments fit neatly into two distinct categories; social, and environmental. Structurally, I will be addressing the social arguments, followed by the environmental arguments. Subsequently, I will address what is the true essence of the debate; the aggregate balance between positive and negative effects.
“...farmers feel ignored by government and powerless when dealing with the energy companies... If the Government grants a CSGM company access to land on a farmer's property, then Gas companies can legally enter private land...”
In general, CSG companies cannot enter land without the landholders' knowledge or consent and must negotiate with the landholder on the placement of any wells or infrastructure . It is technically true that a CSG company can access Australia's natural resources even vis-à-vis an uncooperative individual. However, the law does not exist in a vacuum; it is created by and maintained by the political process. Experientially if a community does not want CSGM, no operations are undergone. When a group of landowners decline access to their land, the economic and political backlash of a forced entry far outweighs the potential gains. This has occurred in Keerrong, Terania, Tuntable Creek and The Channon . Thus, it is apparent that the power still resides firmly with the people.
“there is "no set figure" in the compensation... gates have been left open...” etc.
While I don't have the time to address each of Con's anecdotes individually, I will address the issue as a whole. Due to the power residing with the landowners, it is in the best interests of CSGM companies to develop relationships of mutual trust and respect. For the vast majority of landowners, this is the case. The fact of the matter is that the industry is extensive, with over 3500 wells currently , and though it is unfortunate that in some isolated instances issues arise, it’s almost unavoidable.
“Farmers also fear that water security could be compromised... John Hillier, is "concerned about the long term impact the CSG industry will have on the Great Artesian Basin"... ”
According to an independent study conducted by the University of Southern Queensland, the CSG industry will have little impact on the Great Artesian Basin or the aquifers relied upon for agriculture.  For more information, the video accompanying this round is an excellent resource.
In regards to the individual bores in the Surat Basin, a Queensland Water Commission report has found that 97.5% of all bores will not be affected . However, in the rare event of a localised depletion of bore-water, CSG companies are legally required and do rectify this.
“Fracking [sic.] ... can result in contaminated aquifers which contain salty and toxic water”
Hydraulic fracturing or fraccing as a process is well regulated, widely practiced and extensively researched. Despite a “neighbouring farmer investigating” and purportedly discovering its terrible dangers, fraccing fluid is typically more than 99% water and sand . Furthermore, while the proppants remain in the coal seams, the vast majority of the fluid is brought back up to the surface. In regards to the specific chemicals that occasionally appear in the fraccing solution, an extensive and clear list if readily available as a public resource on the APPEA website . Finally, the use of BTEX chemicals (benzene, tolulene, ethylbenzene and xylenes) has been banned in Australia .
Unfortunately upon close examination, Con's case falls apart. While their may be real issues, Con has failed to address them in any rigorous fashion, instead relying upon anecdotal evidence and groundless claims. Yes, several farmers have faced issues in regards to the CSGM industry's growth and expansion. However, overwhelmingly the CSGM industry has meshed with the existing rural network. In instances where, for whatever reason, a community decides not to accept the CSGM industry, the CSGM has no choice but to comply. Environmentally, Con's two points- water management and the fraccing process have been cogently refuted.
On the other hand, going back to my R2 arguments, CSGM has incredibly positive economic, social and even ecological effects that are yet to be addressed by Con.
On balance as it stands, it is no contention:
Coal seam gas mining positively affects Australia.
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