REVELATIONS of high methane levels in the air around Queensland's Darling Downs gas fields near Tara have sparked renewed calls for a moratorium on CSG mining.
Southern Cross University (SCU) scientists Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher, from the SCU Centre for Coastal Biogeochemical Research, presented groundbreaking findings on Wednesday night showing unusually high air and surface water methane levels around Tara.
The highest concentrations of methane in the air around Tara were up to three times those found anywhere else, and were exactly matched to the CSG produced there.
The methane levels were significantly higher than levels found near non-CSG gas production zones around the world, including the world's largest gas fields in Siberia.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 25 times more polluting than carbon dioxide. It is 100 times more polluting over 20 years.
Though yet to be peer-reviewed, the preliminary research has cast doubt on the CSG industry's 'clean and green' credentials.
According to Dr Maher, it could also cost the industry billions in carbon taxes, threatening its viability.
Federal Greens members acted in concert yesterday, calling on Prime Minister Julia Gillard for immediate funding for a comprehensive coal seam gas field study to accurately calculate emissions from the industry.
We have to have a full, independent field study to measure how much gas is leaking
"We have to have a full, independent field study to measure how much gas is leaking," Greens leader Christine Milne said.
Ms Milne said the government had already quashed proposals for the independent expert committee on CSG to have more executive authority.
NSW Greens followed by calling for a moratorium on the industry in NSW until the true nature of coal seam gas leaks could be assessed.
"Coal seam gas is a major new industry and should not proceed while there are still huge questions relating to its safety, environmental impact and necessity," said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
Yet Rick Wilkinson, chief operating officer for the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), said the findings were biased against the CSG industry.
"The claim that large-scale fugitive gas emissions are a result of coal seam gas production, before they even do their research, seems to indicate a bias against coal seam gas," Mr Wilkinson said.
Southern Cross University rejected the claims of bias, emphasising the university's geochemistry department had achieved the highest research rating in the world, a rank achieved by only two other Australian universities.
Dr Maher and Dr Santos highlighted the need for more baseline studies of all areas slated for CSG production, citing the lack of groundwater monitoring stations in NSW.
"The question is do we want to use a fire detector or a smoke detector approach... do we wait for things to catch on fire or do we want to catch and detect it when we've just got smoke?" Dr Maher said.
"We really need to collect this baseline data and then monitor how things change."
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