Scientists monitored methane levels in the air and water around active gas-fields in southern Queensland and outside the gas fields.
They found the levels were much higher than those found in the Richmond Valley, where no extraction takes place.
Dr Damien Maher says while the research is not definitively due to the activities of CSG production, he says there are multiple lines of evidence to suggest that is the cause.
He says there are big gaps in baseline data and fugitive methane emissions.
“The missing piece of this whole puzzle is data, we need to know what’s happening prior to development occurring but we also need to know what’s happening in these developed areas as well.
“While we can’t turn back the clock and get baseline data from areas where production is already occurring, what we can do is have a look at things now, are they going to get better, are they going to get worse, we can monitor things as they change.
“In terms of areas where production is set to expand or start, we really need to get in now and collect this baseline data so we’ve got something to compare against as the industry expands” he said.
Opponents of the coal seam gas industry say research into its greenhouse gas emissions is long overdue.
Drew Hutton, from Lock the Gate, says it’s significant research about an issue that’s been ignored for too long.
“We’ve have to wait about six or seven years into this industry’s development before we get a couple of researchers who go and look at something really basic; like are we going to have a massive amount of methane wherever we put coal seam gas?
“This is not canvassed as a possibility in one of the environmental impact statements from any of these companies, there’s been no research done by government bodies, no research by the CSIRO.”
Mr Hutton says the Federal Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet needs to implement a moratorium on coal seam gas exports from Australia until further studies have been done to verify the results from Southern Cross University.
“I think Governments need to look at this very seriously, one of the things they’re going to have to do is say, ‘well our current accounting measures for methane are far to inadequate’.”
Damien Maher says there could be serious carbon-tax repercussions for the industry if methane is found to be leaking out of the soil on gasfields in large quantities.
“It could have a significant impact in terms of the carbon tax. We know there’s methane coming out, is it a little bit, is it a lot? They’re the questions that we’re starting to ask now.
“We’re putting cutting-edge atmospheric models together to try to calculate how much gas must be escaping to create those concentrations that we observed.”
Dr Maher says methane is a potent greenhouse gas which is how it’s being considered in regards to coal seam gas production.
“So coal seam gas is 99-per-cent methane, so we’re kind of using methane not only as a tracer for the potential leakage of other gases, but it’s also important in itself because it is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
“Producing energy using coal seam gas or using methane produces more energy per greenhouse gas emission, that’s well known, however, if these fugitive emissions are significant, of methane which is 25 times more potent than CO2 over a hundred-year time scale, then it starts to level the playing field.”
The lobby group which represents the coal seam gas industry says it supports base data being gathered around extraction sites.
More research needed
Rick Wilkinson, from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, says more work needs to be done before any conclusions can be drawn.
“We always welcome new research that looks at the industry from new angles and gives us new insight. But at this stage it’s very early days, it’s quite preliminary, and we’re yet to see where this all leads.
“The first step is to figure out where is that methane coming from” he said.
“At the moment this research has been identified in a couple of particular areas without really having a peer reviewed identification of where the sources (of methane) are so when that’s happened we’ll be able to make further comment.”
Asked whether the possibility of a heftier carbon tax might prove problematic for the industry, Mr Wilkinson said that was a matter for the government based on further research however gas is still cleaner than coal.
“The gap is very wide between gas and the coal alternatives.
“In terms of the overall percentage of 70-per-cent benefit of greenhouse gas, it’s still in my view, we’ll wind up with gas generation being far superior to coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Professor Peter Rayner from the University of Melbourne has examined the early findings of the research.
“The task that various of us (in academia) have to do is to work out just what emissions you need to produce those concentrations because it’s not the concentrations we worry about” he said.
“A few parts per million methane is really neither here nor there in a local area, but the question is what kinds of emissions do you need, what kinds of emissions are responsible for those changes in concentration” he said.
“There are pretty serious gaps in our understanding of what’s going on.
“We need to have these measurements pretty widespread and sitting there all the time, so we can see whether this kind of thing is a one-off and a local event or something that’s going on all the time.”
Professor Rayner says there are serious implications for how methane emissions are calculated for carbon tax, given that methane is around 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
“If we leak three percent of the methane, that brings you back to a break-even point so you can’t afford very substantial leaks if you want to maintain the idea that natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal.
“We can’t be sure yet whether this is a transient phenomenon involved with installing the well or whether it’s something we have to deal with over the whole life of the operation.
“Nor do we know whether there are easy fixes. We’ve found before in cities where there have been leaks in methane pipelines, that in fact a bit of engineering work on the pipes and you could save an awful lot of leakage of methane.
“It could be that what we mainly learn here is that there is a little more engineering work needed to be done on the extraction, or it could be that there is a more fundamental problem with getting gas this way.”
Lawn Mowing Service