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(generated from captions) It was really, really difficult. to make the decision Eventually I was brave enough to do what I had to do that I didn't really belong to which was step away from that group and just have one good friend. Dena raises a great point here. that we like being around Having a small group of friends than having a hundred friends can often be even better enough to tell them our secrets, especially if we trust our friends similar hobbies and interests. we laugh for the same things and have So when it comes to buddies, not quantity. I reckon it's all about quality, of our lives. Friends are an important part we need to be good friends. To have good friends, good people around us, After all when we have don't seem so tough at all. the tough chapters our own great, big adventure We're all stars of so let's make it awesome. Jacqui M Closed Captions by CSI - This Program is Captioned Live # Theme Music I'm Waleed Aly. Hi and welcome to Big Ideas, In this edition, coal seam gas - or an environmental disaster? is it an economic bonanza It's a highly divisive issue, where the wells are being sunk. especially in the areas prime agricultural land. And that's frequently that it's very carbon friendly, Proponents promise high growth, there'll be huge job growth of $40 billion in taxes. and there's the lure But what's the risk? about the science of coal seam gas? How much do we know on ground water systems What is the likely impact 40,000 coal seam gas wells as the industry promotes over the next 30 years. a decrease in carbon emissions The coal seam gas industry promises

and huge export income. is water contamination. But the big concern at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival, This panel not without some ducking and weaving. takes on these contentious issues, Federal MP Tony Windsor, We've got independent Petroleum Production Rick Wilkinson from the Australian and Exploration Association. who writes for the Australian Paul Cleary, Mining Boom and Australia's Future. and has written Too Much Luck: The Director at the Grattan Institute. And Tony Wood, Energy Program Radio National is the moderator. Paul Barclay from ABC's is hotly contested. The science around coal seam gas damaging is the impact How damaging or how potentially from your perspective. of coal seam gas on the environment, therein lies the question, Well, I think either the science, obviously, we don't fully understand some of the flood plains in terms of particularly and ground water systems that exist. My engagement with this matter of the coal industry. actually came out of the best farming land, I represent some on the Liverpool Plains. or farming soil in the world, And that particular farming area resources under it. also has massive ground water And particularly at a time at the interconnectivity issues when we're looking and surface water between ground water for instance, in the Murray-Darling system, a great lack of knowledge there is an extraordinarily of those ground water systems. in terms of the sites with the coal industry And we saw that and still are. when there were certain proposals for coal seam gas And then came along a proposal the same ground water systems again. which involves or could involve lack of knowledge, So I think it's that of risk that's involved the lack of the degree that people have and the lack of confidence of an exploration license, in terms of the granting whether it be coal or coal seam gas of production licenses. and the subsequent granting Water is the big fear? So it's water? and the cumulative impacts Very much so, of a series of coal seam gas fields, for instance - combined with a number of coal mines, what does that do to a catchment? the ground water systems, What does that do to not only the flood plain systems, etc?

of those things? What's the cumulative impact to do in the parliament, And what we've been trying the Senate next week, and I think it'll go through assessment process is develop up this bio-regional from the mining or the gas company that's taken away, in a sense, scientific committee. and given to an independent

Commonwealth to be more involved And then that will allow the a state-based process. in what's essentially been is the coal seam gas industry? Rick Wilkinson, how safe that Tony raised, I think a lot of the issues in Australia indeed ones that we as society and address. need to properly think about that it's not at any cost, We need to be confident that it there's a benefit there, the risk, we understand the uncertainties, or an understanding of that and we build confidence on how we might move forward. So I would agree very much on that. done and continues to be done I think a lot of science has been to address the uncertainties to fill in the blanks, and improve our knowledge in there. what is coal seam gas? In terms of coal seam gas itself, that comes from coal. It's natural gas

limestone, sandstone, shale and coal Natural gas comes from four rocks - in Australia have dealt with so it's something that we for 50 years. has been produced in Queensland Coal seam gas itself for about 15 years already. on the body of knowledge And we continue to build that is associated with that. are expected to be drilled 40,000 coal seam gas wells does that sound about right? in the next 30 years, of thousands, yes, that's right. Well, it's in the order of tens is we're feeding, basically, To keep in mind what we're doing requirements of society. the new lower greenhouse gas-emission to decrease the carbon emissions, Natural gas is a very good way so you get a benefit there. And we feed an export. we feed the export market as well. We've more than enough for us and Just to keep in mind, project on Curtis Island, the single coal seam gas to LNG which is about the same size as the North West Shelf,

will generate more than double the export earnings of the whole beef industry or the whole wheat industry of Australia. So it ranks up there as one of the major impacts that we can have in turning the balance of payments in our favour. I don't think there's any doubt about the potential and real economic benefits, the question marks are really over the environmental risks, water contamination being the chief concern. And there has been, I understand,

some water contamination already in Queensland, from coal seam gas, leading people to suggest that there should be a pause on the development of this industry until we get all of the science in the can. What has done recently and I think is really a model we can all learn from, is the Queensland Government

has run a huge cumulative impact water study for coal seam gas across key parts of Queensland. And it's just been completed. Completely independent, government sponsored. It was a huge undertaking. It covered an area the size of Germany. They did 19 times, 19 layers down and they broke the entire area up into 1.5-kilometre squares. And when they got down into the irrigation areas where it is most important, they were working on 250-metre squares. So when they looked at an area the size of Germany and they thought about 21,000 water wells, they found out that 20,500 of those would not have a material impact from the activities of coal seam gas. And over half a century, they identified 500 wells

that we need to think about. And we will, and we're talking to the farmers and the people affected about what is the better solution for that. So the jury is in, as far as you're concerned. This is an environmentally safe industry, there is no more scientific research that needs to be done? I can say categorically, absolutely, that's not the case. (Laughter) Why? Because science continually improves. We get better knowledge and we go forward from there. I was hoping for a more definitive statement, actually. So, I think that we have done - the science is in - about us proceeding forward to the next step. And the government says, 'In two years we'll be back. We'll look at what data you've learnt.' They've got a monitoring program they'll add to the database

and they'll keep coming back. In Queensland, when we put the models down, of what we think is going to happen in the next 20 to 30 years. The Government says, 'Go ahead,' but if you go outside of that by sometimes as little as 200 millimetres, you come back, your entire license is at risk, you need to explain why the model isn't as you predicted and what you're going to do about it. And I think that's the way it is. The old days of launching a project and then giving the license and walking away for 30 years and not showing up, that doesn't happen anymore and we're not asking for it for the coal seam gas industry. What we're saying is the model's there, let's be held accountable for it. You happy with what you're hearing here, Tony? I think the perception in the community is that it's full steam ahead for coal seam gas. And whilst there are some things there waiting to clarify, the community's wondering are we charging too far, too fast? Are you happy with Rick's explanation there? Well, I think people can be forgiven for thinking it is full steam ahead, I agree with Rick though - I think there's recognition within both the mining and the coal seam gas sector that it has been too fast, it's got in front of the game, particularly in Queensland.

I think NSW is learning from some of the mistakes that have been made in Queensland. But the point I take up with Rick - he made the point about there has been a lot of scientific work done.

I was a State member of parliament over about 12 years ago now, where I chaired a committee that looked at ground water in the Namoi system, which is in NSW on the Liverpool Plains again. It is probably one of the most studied groundwater systems or interconnected groundwater systems, there's about 21 of them.

It covers about 300 kilometres of catchment. Probably one of the most studied in Australia. And the amount of detail that we do have is very small. And we really need to get on top of that. And the basis of the argument that I use is - and the industry, Rick's industry, was running ads in NSW - that there was enough coal seam gas in NSW to run a city like Sydney for 5,000 years. If that's the case, and we're talking about cheaper green energy for the future, what's the rush? Let's get the science right, let's get some objectivity into the process which is outside the miner or the gas company which is at the community level where people can have some confidence in the systems. (Applause) Paul Cleary, let me bring you in to the discussion. Do you think that coal seam gas exploration in Australia is expanding at a greater pace than the scientific knowledge behind the industry? Look, I think it definitely is. I mean, if we were talking about pharmaceuticals our Government would be ensuring that the pharmaceutical companies did proper lab testing, had peer review scientists looking at the results, and really looked at this very, very closely over a period of years, if not decades,

before that product could be rolled out. I mean, in a country like Australia

where we don't actually have a great deal of really good quality farmland and in the most arid continent on earth,

why are we rolling out this industry at a very rapid rate with a good deal of uncertainty

and a lot of uncertainty that needs to be looked at. And that's why I think that a much more cautious approach is really called for, given the risks and uncertainties. And why not also aren't we looking at developing -

if we need gas for ourselves and also for export, get it off the really good agricultural land. I mean, it's the easy option to put it close to the export facility in areas of prime farmland where there's huge risk to agriculture and the water systems. Yeah, Tony Wood, that is, I suppose, one of the big issues at the moment that the gas wells are closing in on top quality farmland. Can Australia afford to sacrifice its food production in favour of gas exploration? And is it doing so? I think we're always - it's interesting to watch what's happening in Australia at the moment. We were talking about this a little earlier, where we went through the - riding on the sheep's back for most of the 20th century, and then we went through a lot of development and manufacturing and clever industries, innovation and so forth and we became more of a knowledge and a service economy. And now we almost seem like we've gone back again to being a resource economy. So it's interesting that this whole thing is constantly changing. And I think the balance will never be stable, we'll never be in the situation where we will be one or the other and the challenge is to keep evolving because if we become completely dependent on one sector almost assuredly that would be to our regret in the long-term. So I think what we see here is a fascinating and quite important discussion going on around almost two contradictory environmental issues - both climate science and the earth science which Tony's concerned about. Rick? Yeah, it's probably worth just putting a bit of perspective or some numbers around the argument here. The entire Great Artesian Basin is about 64 million gigalitres - doesn't matter what a gigalitre is - there's 64 million of them.

It recharges at about 880 gigalitres per annum - that's what flows in through - on the rainforest and so forth. Agriculture and we people of Australia take out about 616 gigalitres every year of which 500 of that is used for agriculture, stock and domestic purposes. Last year the coal seam gas companies took out 16 - one, six - gigalitres, which is about the same as 3,000 hectares of cotton irrigation. Now, that's going to build. That's what we did last year.

That will build, and, according to the Queensland Government when they reviewed our numbers, and came up with a number within about 10% of what we thought, they said it's about 90 gigalitres, compared to 500 of agriculture and 600 in total.

Now, of the water that we take out, none of that is used by the coal seam gas industry. We prefer and we are required to either re-inject it, put it back for future use, or make it available for other purposes. So ideally, what we want to do, and we're working very closely in the Condamine alluvia area and river area to make it available to irrigators so they can preserve their sweeter water, that's in shallower, at 100 metres, and use water that we're taking from 1,000 metres down so we actually achieve the access to the gas but also decrease the load on the irrigation because 500 out of 600 is a big irrigation load that's on the Great Artesian Basin. Paul, one of the things you hear is the impact of coal seam gas wells on the landscape of rural area and some of those areas are actually tourist areas.

Is that something we should be worried about? Look, at the moment, the industry's obviously evolving. Some of the early wells that we've seen have this spider web pattern which is quite intrusive. One of the projects that's been approved, the biggest one so far, has 10,000 wells - this is the APLNG, Origin is the main company in that joint venture. And 10,000 production wells, and then also generates 10,000km of access roads. And I got some documents under Freedom of Information from the Environment Department

and they advise the minister that you really couldn't assess what the impact of building all those roads into farmland would be on agriculture, but also on biodiversity in terms of just the sheer amount of digging up that needs to be done. So I think there also is a risk that we are going to diminish the quality of our farmland but also our biodiversity as well.

We shouldn't underestimate the fact that coal seam gas can bring into those local rural communities - many of which are struggling - a considerable amount of money and a considerable amount of jobs that will flow through an injection of money into those communities creating livelihoods for communities that have been struggling for decades, some of them.

Yeah, I don't deny that but see the problem I have and I really agree with the point that Tony made is that we are in a mad rush. I mean, we're all in favour of economic growth. By the way, we all love rain. We all know we need rainfall but, you'd know in Queensland, that you don't like having floods. What we have now with coal seam gas and the resources industry generally is just an absolute tsunami of investment. We have $250 billion of resource projects that are being rolled out right now around the country. Most of that, actually, is in gas. So when you actually have a big rush of activity that can really can create hyperinflation which is what you have in places like Chinchilla and Condamine where I was recently, where you have these galloping rents, and that then squeezes out the people who aren't getting the high salaries who aren't in the mining industry. So there is no way it really is a win-win for the entire community. Farmers I've spoken to say, 'Well, we've got these coal seam gas wells and that generates $60,000 of income, which is great, but our wages bill has gone up by more than that because everyone is running off to work for the gas companies to lay the pipelines, So we've had to up our costs, and therefore we are no better off, if not worse off.' Tony, do you think it is possible to mitigate and safeguard entirely against the environmental impacts? I think it is, but it is very difficult. I think when you look at this question of the environmental impacts you're looking at two quite different positions, for example, we will never know 100% on any of these issues. On the one hand we absolutely need to know a lot more about what is happening in some of these specific circumstances with these coal seam gas developments and I think in some cases there are examples where people have gone too far and haven't been careful about what they are doing. On the other, equally, the environmentalist would argue 'Well if we wait until we know absolutely about climate change we'll never address that either.' So we'll never know enough information. The question is, as Tony was implying, how much do we need to know to fully understand the risks and then try and achieve some sort of balance?'

That's the question really, isn't it? That's the difficulty. This is not 'it's all black and it's all white',

this is really a challenge of working out where's the appropriate way for us as a community to be informed about it and then for governments to make those decisions on where's the right balance. Well, that's the thing, Tony Windsor, you wait for total certainty on these types of issues - you never really get it. So the point is, at what stage can you say, 'Yes, this industry can proceed?' Because it's very hard for governments to turn their back on an industry like this. Billions and billions of dollars worth of potential revenue for them. And I'm not suggesting they do that. What I'm suggesting and what the legislation that's going through the parliament

at the moment actually starts to do, and some would say does - the jury's still out on that - it actually constructs a framework where you bio-regionally assess the sensitive areas. It's about risk. We'll never be certain. We still don't know whether smoking actually does cause lung cancer. We're not absolutely certain of that. We all think that's correct but you'll never totally take the risk out of this. But you can, in fact, assess risk. And there are some areas, in my view, where the risks are so much higher particularly if you bring in the cumulative impacts of gas fields, mining company, mining company, mining company. The risk accrues. That quadruples if you, in fact, bring in ground water systems. One thing I'll just take up with Rick if I could - please don't be confused that all ground water is the Great Artesian Basin. It isn't. And there's real furphies that are perpetrated from time to time in terms of ground water and agriculture and the Great Artesian Basin and where the coal seam gas water is derived from. That confuses people.

Water is probably the most complicated issue we have in the political spectrum at the moment. But it's gotta be based on risk - if there is high risk, use the precautionary principal. Don't go there. If there's low risks, perhaps take chances and go over there. There's areas that we can, these process can be done, in my view

and there are areas where they shouldn't be until we've proven up the science. Rick, one concern that was raised I think earlier this week about coal seam gas came from agricultural pilots. They want a national database of coal seam gas developments because they say that it can pose a significant safety risk. They say that crop dusting pilots are concerned about plumes and emissions from the wells, that power lines connected to the wells might also be a hazard and that coal seam gas workers could also be potentially at risk if they're working on fields that are also simultaneously being crop-dusted. Are those concerns on the money? I'm still struggling to see the entire connection there

but always open to consider the impact on various industries. If I was a pilot I'd probably be more worried about wind turbines than I would about plumes. (Scattered applause)

But generally, we should identify these areas. In terms of what are we talking about here for every 300, 400 coal seam gas wells, you have a compressor station, and they're generally turbines. There is no processing that goes on, per se, of chemicals. It's not like you are flying over a chemical plant of some sort. They are turbines running compression. So if they are worried about hot air that's coming from the turbines then they're easily plottable, they're easily identified and there are many other examples of where hot air rises there. With regards to wires themselves, we consult with the farmers

and most of the wires are agreed to be put underground and you co-trench with the pipes and so they go underground and you can plough over the top of them.

Where you go above ground, it is in consultation with the farmers, not every farmer uses aerial spraying there. So I think it needs to be considered and there are a lot of those areas that we do, including crop dusting, that properly need to be considered, but it's one part of the equation. It strikes me that we haven't really described, and perhaps you can do so briefly for us, the coal seam extraction process - how it actually works. Some people in the room here will have seen that documentary film about fracking and turning on the tap and the water being set alight and so forth. And it's, I think, been at the centre of a lot of the concern in the community, this fracking process. Can you just explain and clarifiy this for us? Well, there's whole university courses on this topic. I'll try and keep it short and sharp. Gasland - I wouldn't call it a documentary. It's more of a movie, at least in my mind. Or it needs to be properly understood what exactly is being shown. It's not clear from the movie when you see it. So what goes on? What is coal seam gas? It's basically gas coming from the coals and it's laid down naturally

during the whole process of when you squash coal in there. It's interesting because it seems to be basically associated with most coal in varying greater or lesser degrees. So that means Australia - we're the world's largest coal-exporting country - we have a lot of this stuff. The question is can we get it out of the coals economically? And that's why we need to do a lot of research to get the cost down. So, what are we doing with that?

Well, the trick that's been discovered in the last -

20 years ago, 15 years we've been doing it in Queensland - is that if you decrease the pressure on the coal, the methane releases from the coal. It's actually trapped in the coal by pressure. So when we decrease the pressure on the coal, the gas starts to flow, and that's the trick, in essence.

So how do you decrease the pressure on the coal? You do that because it's held in place by the water that's mixed in with the coal.

And so you pump off another water that the pressure drops to just above - the technical term is the 'desorption point', when the coal goes phut! and spits out all of the - the gas starts to flow.

So that's why you have water associated with coal seam gas. You're not removing the water. You're decreasing the pressure to let that desorption process start. And that's the trick. Coal seam gas is quite shallow. It's usually 500-1,000 metres, is the normal window. Irrigators generally work 100-200 metres. Shale gas, you might have heard, which is what the Gaslands movie - is much deeper and about 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 metres and conventional gas works about 5,000 metres down. So as far as petroleum people are concerned, this is like buying a Commodore car that can do 100km an hour and driving it around at 10km an hour. It's very much less in terms of the challenges. And then there's the fracking story. Yes, maybe we'll set fracking aside. Just that one thing to what Rick said earlier.

The crucial thing to understand here is that the freshwater aquifers

are very close to the surface. And the coal seams with that salty water, are below. So you're got to drill down through the freshwater aquifer into the coal seam, and then in about 40% of wells, I think, you need to frack. And that means putting these fluids down - chemicals, to release the gas that's - it's called tight gas. So there is a risk that you will get some contamination 'cause some of those fluids that are used to frack remain in the coal seams, and over time, some of the scientists -

Chris Moran from the University of Queensland, was commissioned by Tony Burke to do a study, and he said with subsidence, you can get a break in that connection between the coal seams and the aquifers so that the two can flow together and then you'll get salty water as well, potentially flowing. And the other crucial thing to understand is that by bringing that water up to the surface, as Rick described, it is salty water, and there is an issue of what you do with the 30 million tonnes of salt that we're going to generate. And while there are some plans - 30 million tonnes? That's right. Over the life of these projects. While there are some plans to deal with it, the companies, I don't believe, actually have a strategy They may process some back into water that's used for agriculture. They may re-inject, but we're gonna probably end up with these big storage ponds full of salty water. When a flood comes along that can then flow into farmland, so that I think is also one of the risks. Ah, Rick, you're shaking your head here. (Scattered applause) It is - let me explain the salt story and how it works. Yes, you pull basically water, which is of a salinity that in most cases is not usable for agricultural domestic purposes.

So you bring that to the surface in the depressurising. As I said, at the moment we're pulling up about the same as 3,000 hectares of cotton and it will go up to about five times that, so 15,000-20,000 hectares. So that's the volumes that we're talking about. When it comes to the surface you run it through a reverse osmosis plant, which is the same as they use for drinking water in London and Singapore to clean it up. Then what do you do with the brine? At the moment the preferred option is to create a commercial use for that. To grab the salt, the bicarbonates and sell it. So remove it from the areas completely. Now the main project proponents of CSG to LNG in Queensland have agreed to work together to do that as the first and best option. I think that's great. It means the salt is removed from the area. The second option that's done and I know it's being done in at least one of the projects,

is they found a salty aquifer where they're injecting it down in the same salinity the aquifer deep down. The problem is you don't get that all of the time. So - and evaporation ponds they're basically in essence banned in all of the states. There is no evaporation. That's a waste of a resource that's very valuable and we shouldn't do that. We have done it in the past. It's not in the plans to go forward. What about the pumping of these chemicals though, deep down into the ground? Yeah, it sounds bad, doesn't it, 'cause it's called carcinogenic and it gets the headlines, so... If you want to know what's in the frack fluids it's on the website, you can look it up, there's a list of it. Every farmer in Queensland, if there's a fracking operation on their farm, gets a complete list of the chemicals before it occurs. Most of these chemicals are chemicals that you could buy at Bunnings. 99% of what goes down the hole is water. I don't know if that makes me feel any better, actually, that we can buy them at Bunnings. So, you know, at the risk of doing another technical story, fracking - if you can frack a well it means you drill less wells, because you don't have to drill as many - you're accessing more of the gas. Fracking is about opening the cracks in the coal, so it's easier for the gas to flow. It goes tens of metres, it doesn't go hundreds of metres or kilometres. 40% of what you pump down comes back up to the surface and is dealt with and the company that pumped it down has to deal with it as it comes up. Then for the next 20-30 years the flow is towards the bore hole and it comes to the surface and is dealt with. If there's a loose chemical wandering around it comes back to the surface. What are the chemicals? They are things like

hydrogen chloride or hydrochloric acid to balance the pH. It's sodium hydroxide. You want your fluids to be neutral when they come to the surface. There's guar gum which I have drunk in the New South Wales Parliament to demonstrate - it's a bit like olive oil, it's tasteless. And there are many examples - these are fairly benign chemicals coming to the surface. OK. Paul?

Just quickly, the national chemical regulator, NICNAS,

has told me for a new book that I'm writing on this subject that they have not yet assessed the chemicals used for fracking. The CSIRO also says that the companies are actually able to - you may contradict - they are actually able to keep some of those chemicals confidential. Is that right? Um, no that's not true, we're pushing for open disclosure, it's required by law in Queensland you put that out there. On the NICNAS story, when the first chemical loop through -

when we went through the first assessment

there was 23 chemicals tabled and 21 had not been assessed

and I thought gosh, that's terrible, how can we get into that space? And when you look at the 21 chemicals, they are salt, salt has not been assessed and it's one of the ones that NICNAS hadn't assessed was in the 21. Hydrogen chloride,

which is basically what you put in your swimming pool.

So most of those chemicals are known, the behaviour is well known of how they work and NICNAS didn't assess them because they looked at them and said these are benign chemicals. It's not our obligation to force NICNAS to assess them. And NICNAS is...? National Industrial Chemicals... ah... something, NAS. We get used to using these acronyms, don't we? Just to finalise, on the whole fracking story.

We started fracking in the late '40s. In Australia we've been doing it since the 1960s. There's about 2 million fracks been done world wide

and there are no examples of a frack chemical contaminating an aquifer. They've tried very hard to do it. The EPA in America is absolutely rabid on this topic. There are no examples of it ever contaminating - They have identified one in Wyoming, they're investigating it. One in two million, which they're investigating. It hasn't been concluded. We could talk about this issue, actually, on its own all night. Paul, I did want to move on to the argument that people put -

we're all looking for lower carbon emitting energy sources these days.

It's the main game.

We're about to see the introduction of the carbon tax, which is, at least in theory, meant to encourage that. How clean is coal seam gas with regard to CO2 emissions? Well, look, there's no doubt, I much prefer to use gas than coal-fired electricity. Um, so it is more of a low-carbon resource definitely than coal and so it's good that we are able to switch to more of it for our power generation and to sell it offshore to developing countries, so they can have lower emissions. There is an issue, though, about whether the production chain that's involved around coal seam gas may actually release methane into the atmosphere and methane is actually a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. I've been on farms in Queensland where people have, let's say, 18 production wells, but they also have these gas release wells, so the actual system, from what I've seen, seems to be designed to actually release some gas and some water in a routine way and there is some research that has come out of the US that has made this argument that if you compare it to oil and coal that perhaps there isn't a great deal of difference because of that release of methane during the process. Tony Wood? Let's maybe back up a little bit. Yeah. There are two big benefits that gas has in this area. One is, as you've just said, that when you actually burn the gas to produce the electricity it has about half, maybe a bit more than half,

of the greenhouse gas emissions of black coal,

and about a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of brown coal. So that's a significant advantage. The second one is that gas-fired power stations are much more flexible than coal-fired power stations. That is they can be turned up and down. The advantage of that is as we are moving away from fossil fuels towards, hopefully, renewable energy, many of which like solar and wind are intermittent, then the benefits of being able to have gas to complement that are significant,

so there's some significant benefits there. The challenge with gas is that, as Paul said, is that if the gas itself is emitted during the production process, it's about 20 times the environmental impact, greenhouse gas, I mean, environmental impact of CO2. So that's obviously not good

and it does mean that if any methane is emitted during the production process that's gonna add to the greenhouse impact and therefore reduce that benefit I just mentioned. The cases that were described in the US would suggest there is actually in some cases in these very old facilities,

there has been some evidence of leakage and that's what the problem has been. I don't think there's any real evidence that that sort of problem exists in Australia, but it means that the industry,

in the way that Rick's been talking about, has to be absolutely on top of this from a regulatory perspective. So the release of methane as part of the production process does not totally negate the carbon benefit from burning, from using...

If you had enormous leaks, obviously, yes, but the evidence would be that there's very - very small if any leakage

from any of the facilities in Australia, compared with the data that came in from the United States. There's a heap of this coal seam gas, as we've heard today. Does moving to coal seam gas as perhaps a transitional energy source help us or hinder us in the movement toward clean energy? Because we've got so much of it, does it just create this halfway point where we get stuck and we can't move to purely clean energy? I think that is actually a much bigger question, in a sense, than the shorter term question of whether or not the emissions from coal seam gas and the power that it produces are higher or lower than coal. I think, that to some extent is a non-issue. I think there's no doubt that even when you include the small amount of what they call fugitive emissions that gas is still better than coal and therefore is a way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Tony Windsor, do you see that as a major benefit of coal seam gas, this 30-50% potential reduction in carbon emissions? It is clearly a cleaner energy source. There is a lot of it around. It that likely to sway your thinking? I think if you look at it in isolation, as Tony has, I think he's covered that very well. If it's looked at in isolation you'd say this is the direction to head. But markets, by their very nature, do extraordinary things. And I don't think anybody is just going to look If you went down that street at the moment

you'd never go near wind, for instance, because it is very expensive in terms of kilowatt/hour

but the research has to be done into it so over time it might be competitive or if the gas price or the coal price starts to head off exponentially the whole relativity thing kicks into play. Rick, there is an argument along these lines that selling coal seam gas as green energy is misleading. Is that a major part of the pitch of the coal seam gas industry, that it is a cleaner, greener energy source? I think it is a cleaner source. It is, if you like, the low-calorie fossil fuel diet of generating power. For me, there is an important question for Australians - how are we going to keep the lights on and how many lights do we want to keep on in the future? And there's a mix.

We're blessed with a mix of coal, the coal seam gas various forms of natural gas and lots and lots of sunlight. So how do we get from where we are today

to somewhere in the future? What coal seam gas does is offers an interim step along the way. It is very quick to get a significant decrease in short order

and, as Tony has pointed out,

it fits in behind the renewables as well. When the sun doesn't shine, the wind doesn't go, you want to keep the lights on, you push a button, gas is about the only thing, apart from hydro, that will come up fast enough to step into that space. The other thing it does is you can locate the turbines in areas and decrease the cost of upgrading the infrastructure. So you don't have to have as many wires, you don't have to have as much of the structure there.

Of your gas bill that arrives in your house for your hot water it's about $20 a gigajoule. Of that about $3-$4 is the price of the gas at the well head and the balance is the transmission of getting it to you. And it's a similar number for your electricity as well. So, Paul Cleary, it is the lesser of two evils, coal seam gas, when you compare it to burning coal. Look one of the things I do like about gas, I really think we need to get away from the big power station with these big transmission lines and that you can localise it. There is an Australian company - unfortunately it's actually gone off to Germany to manufacture because it couldn't actually sell its... its... ..the power produced by these little plants the size of a dishwasher you can have in your home, they couldn't actually get a feed-in tariff to sell it back into the grid so it wasn't actually selling in Australia. It is selling in Europe. So there are lots of innovative things you can do around gas. I just think - if you look at a map of Australia, our gas reserve, what is known as tight gas, and we've also got shale gas in Australia basically stretches from the Queensland border right across the country right through the Northern Territory. In the 1960s and 1970s we went out to Moomba

and we built 1,000km pipelines to Sydney and to Adelaide and I think that's what we should be doing now with those gas reserves that are right out there, rather than doing the easy stuff and the riskier stuff which is on the good farmland. (Applause) Tony Windsor, one of the things we don't talk about as much as we should is the fact that all energy sources have a downside. Even some of the green energy sources.

We've seen the protest movement at the moment around wind power, for example. Hydro power, we've seen pristine river systems flooded to create hydro electricity. And of course all of the carbon-emitting fuels - Nuclear. I mean, all energy sources have their downside and there is no silver bullet

in terms of dealing with carbon emissions. Within that context, does CSG start to look a little bit better then it does in isolation? Well, personally I'm not opposed to CSG. I think Paul has made the appropriate point. Why are we rushing if we've got so much of this stuff? And we're told - if it's 5,000 years for a city the size of Sydney that's probably 1,000 years for Australia. Known reserves, not the unknown reserves. So surely - And if we're worried about our domestic supply of energy

which is a little bit of a furphy in this because the prices will be based and the investment will take place on international prices, not on trying to provide cheaper energy on Australian households. But we have this capacity to get the science right in terms of the sensitive areas. There is this enormous rush.

We've seen it on the edge of the Liverpool Plains, an area called the Pilliga Forest. 2001, Eastern Star Gas took up an exploration license. 2012, the exploration license - well, the application to proceed which has subsequently been taken over by Santos - has been made redundant. I think there's something like 21 issues, environmental issues - vegetation being killed, etc, failures of the system, in the exploration phase - this is not the production phase. So people are quite rightly asking questions, that if we're being told all the time that the science, that we've got the production right, why are these incidents occurring? Why has Santos taken over that company? We had all of these assurances when Eastern Star Gas was in play, Santos has taken over that company, they've gone back to square one, and they've said, 'Oh, those things should never have happened.' Well, if the protocols were right in the first place, why have they happened? When even the deputy prime - well, previous deputy prime minister was chair of that company.

The people of that area were being told, 'There's no problems here, we understand, we've learned from the Americans, we don't frack, we do all of these things correctly,' and I think something like 21 failures of the system have occurred before they've even gone into production, that's why people are very concerned about this. And I've got absolutely no doubt that there's areas of Australia that can be quite legitimately, with no risk, where gas and coal can be extracted. Let's not go to the best areas first.

If we need them in 5,000 years, we might go there then. (Laughter) (Applause) How are rural communities being affected by this, Tony? I mean, you hear about the social fabric of some of these communities being rather torn when the CSG companies come in. What sort of impact are you seeing? Well, I can only speak for my area and we were talking earlier outside - one of the issues in our area is a big coal mine proposed on a flood plain by BHP -

half a billion tonnes.

Santos arrives on the scene a few years later and they're looked at as being a coal miner but they do have similar connecting points - we don't understand the connectivity of those groundwater issues. With a coal mine, you can actually go and buy the 10,000 acres

or whatever you need, put a bank around it, and as long as you don't get leakage out of the system, that will pass the test. With a coal seam gas mine, you don't buy the land. You access the land but the impact of the activity 'could' - and no-one can prove this can't happen - could have through the interconnectivity issues of groundwater could have issues with others that are many, many kilometres, hundreds of kilometres away from the source of the activity. And that's where the concern is. You can always - as we saw on television last night - a farmer that's quite comfortable with coal seam gas on his land, a source of income. But what if you're 20kms away and suddenly you find that your income has been effected by polluted ground water artery that has been caused somewhere else? The legal implications of actually trying to prove that in the court are very difficult as well because of the hydraulic nature of ground water systems. I look at it very simply - if you run the risk of cutting your wrist and then nature tries to take over,

does it reconnect in the way in which it did before? It may, it may not. And that is why we have to get the absolute science in these very sensitive farming areas and water areas otherwise it's a nonsense to actually go through this process of looking at the Murray-Darling System that we are trying to look at now. It is a nonsense if you don't fully understand the implications and the hydraulic nature of water and how it works. We may - take Rick's point - he may have total knowledge of how gas works. I don't. But I'm damn sure he doesn't understand how our ground water systems work in our many catchments and we've got to get that cumulative bio-regional process in place, then we make decisions based on objectivity rather than best guess. (Applause) Rick, I noticed that Tony was using the word 'mine' to describe coal seam gas. Mining is not a term that you like to be associated with coal seam gas. Perhaps you can explain the problem you have with that terminology? It's just a simple difference.

Mining if you look it up in the dictionary is about digging up rock We drill bore holes which are about eight inches in diameter. A single coal seam gas well occupies an area - depends whether you are in an open area or a more intensive area - but generally 15 metres by 15 metres and generally the pipes and the wires, etc, are underground

so that is relatively small footprint. That single coal seam gas well will produce the same energy as 85,000 tonnes of coal. So in terms of impact on the surface, I can't think of any other energy source that we can use as a society that has such a low imprint. Everything that is keeping these lights on today has an impact on the environment. The question is how do we get the mix right? I guess the other question, Tony Wood, is how aggressive the coal seam gas companies have been in pursuing access to farming land? Have they been overly aggressive, do you think? I need to, first of all identify that I used to work for one of these companies some years ago but I did. And I don't have regrets about that, by the way, and I spent time - back in the late '70s I suspect it must have been - talking to farmers in north Queensland about the very early days of this whole industry - Trying to get access to their land. No. I was trying to understand a bit more about what their concerns were at the moment but they were raising these issues with me, in fact they were looking to - these particular farmers were looking to develop coal seam gas. So the world has changed a lot. I do think there's been evidence, some examples, where the learning experience has been expensive. I think Rick has already pointed out that the evaporation ponds. The company that I used to work for built evaporation ponds and created, in some volumes, the problem Paul was talking about. Some of these salt fields have been created. Now, I think that world has moved on but I think that rate of that movement has probably not been fast enough and I think that the industry has therefore not managed, as well as it should have done, some of these issues. And that therefore creates the sort of concerns that many people are quite validly worried about. I think that's changing and I think the industry now is on top of that. But it will never be the case that unfetted access to anything is going to produce the right outcome but I don't think that's what the industry is proposing either. So the question is how do we get the right balance in respect of looking at what we're going to effect - communities, agricultural land, etc, and at the same time economic and arguably environmental impact that gas could have because right now the world is looking for our gas. If we don't supply it, someone else is. Now that is not an excuse to take short cuts but we need to also understand that this is a global market and we have to decide as a community what we want to do about that. But the protest movement is rather - got a rather emotional title - 'Lock the Gate.' Implying 'keep those horrible coal seam gas companies out of the farms' but Rick, but what would you argue communities get out of - local communities - get out of these coal seam gas wells being drilled on properties in rural areas? I think it's interesting to note, when we survey the sentiment for or against coal seam gas there is quite a big difference between areas that you are working. But unequivocally, the strongest support we get for coal seam gas is where the most coal seam gas wells are. Roma, Chinchilla is right up the top of the scale. The weakest support is the closer you get to the metropolitan and the green areas. And when they voted at council elections in those areas, seeing all the trucks and activity that's moving around the place

and the impact on the local economies. Six out of the seven mayors voted in were for coal seam gas. So it's not my spin, it's not me - it's the votes of the people in the regions. So what happens in the local areas? If you talk to the Mayor of Dalby

he says he has an unemployment rate of below 2%. He has a TAFE there that's growing at about 30% per annum, there is a brand new - fully paid for by coal seam gas companies - aero-medical evacuation system with doctor, pilots, paramedics on board. And at least half a dozen people are alive today because of what's happened there. The coal seam gas companies, apart from the royalties, also donate at the rate of $1 million a week into the local communities because we are a part of the local communities. The local rugby clubs, the hospitals, the roads is all coming into those areas. Now Paul, you've stressed the need to empower people in the area affected by the CSG, is that right?

No. That I think you'd like to see people more involved, people deciding at a local level about whether or not these explorations should go ahead? Certainly I think that farmers who are on really good land actually should have a right to say no. And that's, by the way, also the view of Ian Macfarlane, the federal MP, who is the resources spokesman former resources minister. So I think the idea that particularly when you're dealing with really prime agricultural land, I think those farmers should certainly have a say. I'm not an activist myself, I'm really just an observer of this and I think that more that the community can be involved and better they're informed. Unfortunately what has happened is a lot of this has taken place in a really secretive way. For example, the companies insist on very strict confidentiality agreements when they sign these deals with farmers. I think that's totally wrong, in an open democratic society. And I agree. Let's have full transparency. Let's have it all out in the open so people can see what other farmers are getting and what a good deal looks like. Let's have full transparency. That was the coal seam gas discussion form the Noosa Long Weekend Festival. You can find the extended version on our website. And some other great talks from that same festival. And remember you can find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. That's all from this edition, I'm Waleed Aly. See you next time. Closed Captions by CSI

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