No one knows precisely how much methane leaks from Australia’s growing coal seam gas fields, and more research is needed to back up industry claims about greenhouse emissions, a report produced for the federal government has found.
Methane is a far more potent gas than carbon dioxide, so accurate measurements are needed to work out the industry’s contribution to global warming, said the report commissioned by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.
“There is effectively no public information about methane emissions associated with unconventional gas production in Australia,” it said. “This is a matter of some public policy concern, given the projected large growth in production of CSG.”
The issue was a “growing source of controversy in Australia”, according to the report, prepared at consultancy Pitt & Sherry by Hugh Saddler, an adjunct professor at the Australian National University’s Energy Change Institute.
The government is calling for public submissions on the best methods for measuring emissions from coal seam gas drilling. The deadline for submissions has been extended to October 19.
The report found that greenhouse emissions from Australian gas wells were likely to be lower, on average, than those of US gas wells, because of different geological conditions and the more frequent use in America of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
There is no published data on methane emissions, and no systematic emissions measurement program under way, but both the CSIRO and the University of Queensland are proposing to do research.
The coal seam gas industry is marketing itself as “up to 70 per cent cleaner than coal”.
The industry body, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, said the report showed that gas drilling in the US was not relevant to Australia.
“The key thing to note is that the review does not conclude emissions in Australia are underreported or misreported,” a spokesman for the association said.
“APPEA also thinks that moves to allow for more accurate measurement of emissions from other and all industry sources across the Australian economy, is positive.”
The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency said the report was a “positive contribution” to debate as it worked to refine better methods for measuring coal seam gas emissions.