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47 responses to “Coal Seam Gas: Behind the Seams – media project and fundraiser”

  1. Kim

    Thanks for posting this, Mark!

    I’ve already given $1000.

    I know well how much hard work has gone into this, and how promising the results achieved are to date, so I’d encourage everyone to consider donating!

  2. Nick

    $20 on its way. Sorry it wasn’t more but almost broke atm…

  3. Huggybunny

    Good idea, I suspect that an objective enquiry into CSM will come to the conclusion that CSM is a very good thing. The problem is the greed of the exploiters, they either continue with a find that has gas but adverse consequences for extraction; or they use extraction methods that damage the environment.

  4. Kim

    Thanks, Nick!

    Huggybunny, the whole idea is to look at each interlocking aspect of a complex issue. So objectivity is the aim, but whether or not CSG is ‘a good thing’ will be up to people themselves to judge.

  5. Tom

    I gave $100, because I value the contribution of the writers who’ve signed up to Australian commentary highly. This is a great idea.

    I have one criticism: I’d suggest changing the body font of the FAQ Research site to something other than Courier New. It’s not a good font for reading online.

  6. Kim

    Thanks so much, Tom!

    I’ll pass on that point about the font.

    Note though that the project website itself will be on the Crikey page and with their layout and formatting.

  7. joseph.carey

    A great initiative I will certainly follow with interest. But the website/blog doesn’t allow or want reader comments?

  8. Robert Merkel

    joseph: as noted, the project site will be hosted by Crikey and will have full discussion facilities. The FAQ research site is really just a placeholder being used for promotion at this stage.

  9. David Irving (no relation)

    That’s probably a good thing, joseph.carey. I can see it turning into a shitfight in a matter of minutes if comments were allowed.

  10. Kim

    The project site will allow for comments on the articles, and they will be moderated by Crikey in accordance with Crikey’s usual moderation and legal standards.

    We will be moderating comments on the blog component of CSG: Behind the Seams, which will also be on the Crikey platform.

    One of the aims of the project is to try to raise the quality of discussion on articles and posts, so we’ll be bearing that in mind, and introducing some techniques and possibly software to facilitate that.

  11. Kim

    This article, reporting some of the interesting alliances among different groups and an Essential Poll that finds support highest among conservative voters for a moratorium, gives some taste of how intriguing this issue is going to be in the Queensland election contest:


  12. joseph.carey

    So comments will be dissuaded. That’s a counterproductive approach.

  13. akn

    Best wishes for this project. On the basis that only critical comment is valuable, here goes –

    Roger Jones:

    But if CSG is to be extracted sustainably, then good policy is vital.

    What do you mean sustainable extraction of CSG? Are you calling for another carboniferous age to replace the gas we remove now? Initial premises will be important in framing this discussion and to your project. My response so far is that the very idea of ‘sustainable CSG extraction’ just doesn’t make sense.

    Moreover, the framing of the issue in terms that link ‘pink surfboards’, the irrationality of ’emotions’ and ‘perceived risk’ is deeply prejudicial to conservationist arguments:

    For perceived risk, emotional, rather than analytic, decision-making is likely to dominate.

    This sort of claim is familiar to anyone who has ever argued for nature conservation over and against the logic of someone champing at the bit to make a quid so they and their families can live like a pharaohs for several generations.

    Robert Merkel:

    Most of Australia’s mining occurs in remote areas of Australia, a long way from Australia’s cities or areas where high-value agriculture is conducted. Exceptions to this, such as Victoria’s brown coal mines, are long established.

    If you look at a map, and there are many available, of proposed and existing coal mining in NSW, you’ll see that these mines are neither a long way away nor are they to be located on ‘low value’ land. Moreover, even long wall mining under catchments is now opposed by many conservationists because, well, they drain the water and destabilise high value landscapes. If you need the links to NSW issues, I’ll provide them.

    Good luck.

  14. joseph.carey

    akn – in fact 70% of NSW has been granted CSG exploration permits. There’s a moratorium till April or thereabouts on all this, but all the signs from government at least is that it will be open slather thereafter.

  15. Kim

    @12 – no, joseph.carey, comments won’t be dissuaded.

    We’ve explained that the website we’ve pointed people to is just a preview of the content. A huge amount of work has to be done to get things to launch point. Once the site is live, comments will be able to be made on both the articles already published (which will re-appear on the Crikey project website) and on blog posts.

    The project hasn’t been launched yet, we’re just letting people know about it, showing people what it will look like and explaining what it will encompass, and seeking support for realising its aims and objectives.

  16. akn

    Yes Joseph. That’s a lot of NSW looking like a gas works if only 50% of the exploration permits prove viable. Here’s what it looks like up in the Pilliga forest.

  17. akn
  18. Quoll

    Why not try http://www.pozible.com.au for the fundraising.

    I’ve known a few groups or individuals to use this website quite successfully.
    It seems to attract support because the model is no-one pays until the funding target is reached, then everyone pays together.

    I actually think there’s a lot of people that have already expended a great deal of time and energy to this issue.
    I’d be a bit wary of alienating those folks that have been working away largely without much support or wider acknowledgement.

    It is an issue currently largely because of local non-famous people who haven’t taken the corporates word for it, and sometimes put their own safety, financial or apparent social interests aside to take on powerful corporate interests.

    Nothing sucks for many people like experts or elites coming along and taking over the issue through financial or social gravitas after a lot of ground work has been done only through sheer determination by locals… Not that I’m saying this is the case here. Though in some ways perceptions is more significant than reality in these regards.

    Anyway all the best.
    I’d guess most anti-CSG campaigners are supportive of any further light being shed on the situation, as it’s hard to see how mass industrialisation of farming and rural land will be seen by very many people as beneficial ever.

  19. akn
  20. joseph.carey

    Kim @15 – sorry if I misunderstood.

    There’s a mass of material on this and I for one can not keep up with all the media reports and blog sites from the US, Canada Australia and elsewhere reporting and commenting on this issue.

    It’s true there’s a lack of informed critical including scientific commentary on the issue overall. It’s certainly shaping up to be a mega issue in Australia, certainly in NSW and Qld. The Greens are on to it and doing good work around it as are various other political and community groups and alliances, but it’s a David and Goliath scenario at the moment. There’s a lot of government to industry negotiations going on but from what I’ve observed it’s mostly a smoke and mirrors exercise based not on a concern for science or for the interest or viability of people, communities, agriculture, water tables, or public health but the imperatives of $ and fantasies of economic progress and development.

    I think campaigns against the CSG industry have a huge potential for success and are of tremendous importance for a range of reasons, some of which have been alluded to here.

  21. Kim

    @17 – Thanks for the suggestion, Quoll.

    We decided to go with IndieGoGo after considering a number of options. There are now a heap of such sites out there. We wanted to go for ‘flexible funding’ as the project has already begun, so it’s a matter of seeing how much can be raised to continue fund it, rather than pre-funding something in the future.

    The option of having PayPal funds available immediately is also good for us, as accommodation, transport, equipment, etc costs will need to be incurred next week to underpin the field reporting in Jondaryan, Dalby, Tara and Chinchilla.

  22. Kim

    @19 – no worries, joseph.carey.

    There is a stack of information, that’s true. Again, part of our approach is to reduce that into some frequently asked questions, and support quick answers to that through links to comprehensively researched articles.

    So it’s another way of reducing the information overload, which tends to work in favour of the vested interests, I think.

    You also make a good point about both the lack of scientific research, the way that doesn’t factor into policy making, and the interesting political tactics used by anti-CSG alliances.

    We are gathering as many eminent experts as possible, some of whom have conducted very interesting research on issues such as fugitive emissions which has not really made it into the public arena.

    We are also going to look at the political combinations and tactics of activism going on – the “radicalisation of the bush”.

  23. joseph.carey

    Kim – it’s not just a lack of scientific research commissioned by industry or government.

    It’s a deliberate absence of interest in such research, and its potential findings, with the exception – at most – of suggestions of peripheral or relatively minor impacts in relation to air, noise and water, which government reports currently exclusively entail.

  24. Robert Merkel

    akn: my piece is intended to be an overview, and couldn’t possibly be comprehensive.

    What I was trying to say with the bit you’ve quoted was that CSG represents the intrusion of mining into areas that a) are currently highly productive agricultural land, and b) haven’t previously seen much mining activity. It is the combination of a) and b) that makes CSG politically contentious and somewhat unusual, though not unprecedented. Perhaps I should qualify that statement a bit more.

  25. Robert Merkel

    I’d draw attention to this section of Mark’s post:

    Our mission is to facilitate a better informed and more interactive public debate around key issues in Australia, holding the PR, political and media spin to account, disseminating fact and research on which citizens can make informed value judgments, and involving as broad a field of folks as possible in the conversation.

    This project is not anti-CSG (or pro-CSG, for that matter) activism.

  26. Kim

    @22 – joseph.carey – it might not be a lack of interest, but rather a lack of funding. I’m aware from working on this project of a number of people who’ve sought to get grants to research public health impacts of CSG. Now, such research is ‘applied’ rather than the sort of thing normally funded by the ARC or NHMRC as ‘discovery’ research, so usually requires an industry partner for a Linkage grant. The companies would not, for obvious reasons, be such partners. It may require state or federal government agencies or departments to facilitate such research, but again, there are obvious reasons why they might not.

    So it really goes to bigger questions about adequate funding of public interest research in Australia.

  27. akn

    OK Robert. I hope that critical comment assists with closer focus.

  28. joseph.carey

    @24 – ah, thanks for clarifying.

    It will not be an “activist” friendly site. It will be scientifically objective and open to all comers equally.

    Good luck with that.

  29. Kim

    joseph.carey – the idea is that both activists and company reps (and political parties) will have their claims tested against science.

    It’s utopian to expect a fact-based discourse.

    It’s a worthy enterprise to try to pull a politicised discourse in the direction of fact 😀

    Thanks for the good luck wishes! 😛

  30. Roger Jones

    akn @lucky13

    The “if it can be extracted sustainably” is a conditional statement to be tested. I’m taking the view that sustainability of any kind can’t be achieved without good policy. You’ve tested it by your lights – that’s fine.

    Regarding pink surfboards; calculated, perceived and political risk. This model is value neutral. I make no distinction between emotional and analytic thought. Humans use both. I think good policy requires both. In any complex decision the interaction between the two becomes “interesting”. The pink surfboard is a symbol for the argument that appeals to a specific value (cultural, political) and usually uses some kind of psychological heuristic such as anchoring. The evidence used is often rudimentary, faked, hard to test and/or non-existent. The mining industry does it through “if you don’t allow this, you won’t have jobs, get bling”. Environmental claims are often framed with big numbers being bad, with the precautionary principle sitting in as risk aversion. Always good to test such claims (e.g., I have strong environmental values and continually test them against evidence). Obviously the scientific content of such claims matters.

    Rational/irrational is not the same as emotional/analytic (and all arguments that make this claim should be looked at with suspicion). The example you cite describes a positivist economic construction that claims rationality. Again such claims can be tested outside their particular framing. It’s one reason why I’m an environmental scientist working in an economic research centre – to figure out how to do that.

  31. 0akn

    Roger Jones: your comments require consideration so I’ll think about it and get back to you.

  32. calyptorhynchus

    Unless the site comes down against Coal Seam Gas, then I won’t consider it objective.


  33. darragh

    Damn faqresearch being blocked by my work filter…..are the essays/articles getting published here or elsewhere?

  34. Kim

    Darragh, that’s a nuisance!

    All the articles and stories will be on the Crikey website on a dedicated CSG: Behind the Seams landing page… from Monday. So you won’t have too long to wait!

  35. akn

    Roger Jones: people have for a long time used social policy as the crucible in which to meld competing claims and demands. The post war compromise between capital and labour that created the welfare state in the UK and elsewhere is an example. CSG will not prove amenable to such compromise because of its high visibility on the landscape (like wind turbines) and the lack of trust between citizen and corporate/scientific employees and their partisans.

    Seeking compromise with an industry like this, even imagining that CSG extraction might fit some definition of sustainability, is an act of politics, not policy. Hiding political preferences behind policy prescriptions is disingenuous.

    The real issue is that the electorate is getting zero leadership on this from the ALP and know all too well what the Libs are like. The ecological crisis is presenting serious problems for democracy and will continue to do so.

  36. Ikonoclast

    I cannot help but proffer a comment at this early stage.

    Given that the earth’s entire endowment of fossil fuels (known and reasonably inferred recoverable reserves) namely coal, oil, natural gas, CSG etc. is clearly sufficient to cause the highly probable outcome of global warming of up to 6 degrees Celsius and possibly as high as 10 degrees Celsius, ANY further develoment of fossil fuels of ANY kind is highly inadvisable RIGHT NOW.

    All development of new fossil fuel fields should end now. Indeed, it should have ended 10 or more years ago. Why anyone would be developing or would be allowed to develop even 1 cu m. of CSG given our current state of knowledge is beyond me. Every bit of this development capital, planning effort and practical effort should be going into developing non-fossil, renewable energy NOW.

    The fact that it is even thought to be still a matter worth ongoing debate by members of the scientifically educated class (as opposed to scientific illiterates and self-interested business hucksters) illustrates a failure to grapple with the real problem.

    Promoting public debate over matters already adequately determined by voluminous scientific research and empirical results is absurd. It is not political debate that is required, it is the scientific education of the general populace. Do we debate that common salt is comprised of an Na ion and a Cl ion or do we educate and demonstrate this empirical reality via repeatable verifiable experiment?

    This debate is a “wicked problem” but this is so at least partly because of the “wicked” level of scientific illiteracy and pre-scientific faith-based reasoning still endemic in our general population. It exemplifies our overall failure to carry the scientific-humanist revolution through to the masses. Corporate capitalism rather than scientific humanism has taken control of our civilizational agenda since about 1850 (or even earlier) and much of our priviliged intelligentsia have allowed themselves to be bought off and become servants and apologists for the capitalist oligarchy.

  37. Ikonoclast

    To support my view that we should not be prospecting for ANY new fossil fuels.

    “Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.” – Fiona Harvey, UK Guardian.

    “The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

    “It’s not a difficult issue to grasp. If we burn just 60% of current global reserves of fossil fuels, we produce two degrees of warming. We cannot afford to use what has already been discovered, let alone to find more. Yet no one in either the current or past governments has been prepared to engage with it.”- George Monbiot, UK Guardian.

    (I might add I do not agree with George Monbiot’s support for nuclear power.)

  38. akn

    Yairs, Ikonoclast. We need to accept that the feeling unerpinning denialist’s lies ‘n panic is fear. Not rational and so far not amenable to rational dialogue. It’s not almost too late; it is too late. We’re maxed. The denialists and energy addicts, like the morning queue at the methadone clinic, till see themselves as groovy thangs. They need to be told they’re not: they’re ugly, wasteful, scared and whiny. Our message needs to be ‘get out and walk’.

  39. Lefty E

    The mendicant, welfare-sucking, subsidy-addicted taxeaters known as the global fossil fuel industry:

    International Energy Agency data that found global subsidies for fossil fuel energy increased to $US409 billion in 2010 ($A380 billion), compared with $US64 billion for renewable energy.


  40. Jon Brodie

    I hope the site examines the loading and export end as well. The situation in Gladstone is a disgrace for a development in a World Heritage Site with grossly inadequate monitoring and management of impacts.

    Jon Brodie

  41. Huggybunny

    [email protected]
    Of all the fossil fuels Coal Seam Methane is the most benign. It is after all CH4 – so there are 4 H2 molecules in there to provide zero emissions energy, the catch of course is the C which gets converted to CO2.
    Co2 is far less forcing than CH4 so when the Greens get their way and stop CH4 extraction we had better hope the leakage from the CH4 fields stops too.
    That is where the investigation should begin IMV.

  42. Ikonoclast

    I’m not sure which view you are putting forward, huggy. However, let’s examine your main contention;

    “Of all the fossil fuels Coal Seam Methane is the most benign. It is after all CH4…”

    But when we take into account all the other pollutants released in the process of producing CSG it begins to look far less benign. It is fallacious to merely account for the burning of pure CH4. Also, natural leakage is far less and far slower than leakage from tapped and fractured fields.

    The main argument (that CSG or any other form of CH4 is more benign as a fossil fuel and so should be used) founders on that fact that it is used in addition to other fossils not as an alternative. The facts are that everything prospected and recovered is burnt. Extraction of thermal coal is not slowing, nor are there plans to slow it, as extraction of CSG increases. The consistent plans of fossil-fueled capitalism are to extract everything fossil and burn everything fossil.

    The only way to slow and halt the above dynamic is to halt exploration and development of all new fossil fuel fields now. Existing developed fields would have to be used and possibly exhausted in some cases to power the transition to renewable energy.

  43. Huggybunny

    Ikonoclast @ 44
    We would have to agree that the dominant component of CSM is methane, it is no doubt possible to extract and burn limited amounts of this gas with minimal side effects.
    The problem arises because the companies doing the extraction need to make large profits, thus they use techniques such as “fracking” that maximise the return from a given hole.
    What is really needed is a serious investigation into the least disruptive technique/s for CSM extraction.
    But no, the white knights will ride in, pontificate and entirely miss the underlying reality.

  44. Ikonoclast

    No. What is needed is to cease all fossil fuel exploration and development right now. What is needed to phase out all existing fossil fuel production over the next 30 years down to 0% fossil fuel use and move to a 100% renewable, non-fossil fuel energy economy.

    If this is not done, 6 to 10 degrees of global warming will wreck the biosphere’s capacity to sustain human civilization and maybe even the human species.

  45. Huggybunny

    Ikonoclast @ 46
    “What is needed to phase out all existing fossil fuel production over the next 30 years down to 0% fossil fuel use and move to a 100% renewable, non-fossil fuel energy economy.”
    Agreed, but the most effective phase out would be to stop mining coal an go to methane extraction instead.
    And really push the very large scale distributed solar.