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Friday, 18 August 1989
Page: 416

Senator COULTER —Is the Minister for Resources aware that large quantities of methane are present in coal, perhaps as much as 40 billion cubic metres in New South Wales and Queensland alone? Is the Minister aware that methane is at least five times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, to which it can be burnt with the release of substantial quantities of energy? Will the Minister therefore investigate and report to the Senate on the amounts and distribution of methane in coal in Australia and also on the feasibility of tapping methane as an energy source so as to increase coalmine safety, conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions both directly and indirectly?

Senator COOK —First of all, since the subject of methane has been raised in terms of its greenhouse gas contribution, let me say that methane is a naturally produced gas. Methane emissions come mainly from the rice paddies of Asia and the increasing number of ruminant cattle in the world.

As to Senator Coulter's first question, I am aware of the facts. Australia's coalbed methane reserves are substantially greater than Senator Coulter suggests. In the northern Bowen basin alone coalbed methane resources are estimated at 3,850 billion cubic metres in place, with recoverable reserves estimated at 2,500 billion cubic metres. As to the second question, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation advises that methane emissions are six times more effective than carbon dioxide emissions on a molecule for molecule basis as a greenhouse gas.

In respect of the third question, I can advise that under the national energy research, development and demonstration program the drainage of methane from coalmines and the feasibility of utilisation of that methane have been successfully demonstrated already. Methane drainage has resulted in increased coalmine safety, increased coal productivity and the conservation of energy. Methane drainage is now commercially applied at a number of underground coalmines in New South Wales. More specifically, at a coalmine I visited recently-the Westcliff coalmine-and at the Appin collieries drained methane gas is used to generate electricity for on-site use, with excess power generated from that source being fed into the New South Wales electricity grid. The draining of coalbed methane and its use for on-site electricity generation is a positive step in the reduction of greenhouse gases when compared with the alternative of bringing coal based electricity into the mine. The coal industry and the electricity generating authority in New South Wales have cooperated well in this area and are to be commended for it.