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Aug 12, 2014

Fugitive CSG emissions are no big deal, right? Wrong.

You may have heard that the amount of methane that leaks into the atmosphere is similar to the amount produced by four cows. Not so fast ...

Paddy Manning

Crikey business editor

Leaking methane is the Achilles’ heel of Australia’s $60 billion-plus coal seam gas export industry, so there was a rush last week to welcome the CSIRO’s first measurements of these so-called “fugitive emissions”, which found very little leakage. But the finding was much narrower than initial reports suggested.

8 comments

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8 thoughts on “Fugitive CSG emissions are no big deal, right? Wrong.

  1. Roger Clifton

    Thank you Paddy for the expose of methane leakage from CSG. There is also 1-2% leakage from long distance pipelines and larger leakage from municipal pipework, so much so that “gas main explosions” are folklore.

    Readers who did science at school will realise that CSG is mostly methane, but so is CNG, LNG, shale gas and yes, “natural gas” — and they all leak similarly. It is all the same stuff, an enemy of the greenhouse.

  2. Chris Key

    One area where the science is weak is the origin of the hydrocarbons. Volcanoes spew out vast volumes of methane and water. Where does it come from?

    In the absence of that knowledge we cannot have a planetary perspective on the carbon and water cycles.

  3. Chris Key

    And a further note – in parts of the US and Poland, shale gas does not burn, being more than 50% Nitrogen. How does that occur? Where does the Nitrogen come from?

  4. Stuart Coyle

    Chris a bit of organic chemistry should tell you, the nitrogen comes from the same place as the carbon and hydrogen that make up Methane: dead plants from millions of years ago. Fortunately nitrogen is not a greenhouse gas and it is so abundant in the atmosphere that we have almost no chance of buggering things up with it.

  5. Roger Clifton

    Chris Key admits to weak knowledge of the carbon cycle.

    It is only a cycle, with net zero carbon fluxes, when all runaway forces have spent themselves or pushed the system to a new equilibrium. There is no strong restoring force here.

    The carbon cycle is broken. Man’s carbon emissions have pushed atmospheric CO2 into runaway mode. Even if the new equilibrium is reached within the lifetime of our species, the climate everywhere is likely to be different from what we know now.

    The nitrogen cycle is broken too. Nitrogen fertilisers are synthesised and applied to crops worldwide, and the biosphere is changing in response, for the worse. At least, it’s for the worse from our point of view but certain algae and their grazers are probably delighted with the new nutrients.

  6. Lockie Histo

    Have you considered a mass balance in the carbon cycle using the CH4 emissions from volcanoes? So much for the bog theory of hydrocarbons.

  7. Roger Clifton

    @Chris Key, Lockie Histo. Rocks normally contain at least some traces of carbon that expresses as a partial pressure of either CO2 or methane. Oxidised rock such as in subduction zones tends to release CO2, most evidently in volcanoes around the Pacific rim. Reduced rock such as that emerging at the mid-ocean ridges releases small quantities of methane, in that case, mainly to the (oxidised) ocean floor. Most of the great extinctions in the fossil record are associated with extremely large flows of basalt, but it is arguable how much their (massive) emissions of CO2 and CH4 contributed. Contribution of methane from modern volcanoes is minor.

    It is the biosphere that dominates modern carbon fluxes.
    Biomass is the source of the carbon that we are dumping into the greenhouse today.

  8. tonyfunnywalker

    Funny but Renewables have no CO2 or Methane emissions at all Paddy but Abbott is the process of closing that down. The potential source of uncontrollable methane is the melting permafrost in the Arctic and where gas emission craters are already being formed.
    The retreating ice fields will add to the problem as the Artic becomes increasingly ice free as warming continues unabated.

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