The decision by Narrabri Shire Council to give its support to the Narrabri Gas Project represents a pragmatic approach to what has been a controversial issue in local, regional and national arenas.
Five Councillors voted in favour of a motion from Cr Cameron Staines to support the project, while three Councillors did not.
One Councillor did not vote because of a possible conflict of interest in the matter.
The decision to adopt a definitive Council position on the potentially huge gas project has no real bearing on what higher levels of government may decide, but it demonstrates that the majority of Councillors has decided that ‘fence-sitting’ was not appropriate in a matter which has the potential to have economic, social and environmental impacts at many levels.
It would appear that the Councillors are all very aware of the elements of the debates about global climate change and the apparent consequences for the planet as a whole.
Equally, the ‘on the ground’ local realities of extreme drought, and consequent economic and social conditions, and prospects for the future of the towns and district of the Shire have weighed on the minds of Councillors.
In this regard the majority of Council appears to have decided that the future direction and wellbeing of the Shire may lie in further diversification of industry and opportunities beyond the traditional pillars of primary production which have served the area so well up to the current era.
It is clear to most thinking people that climate change and its impact are real. A new report to a forthcoming United Nations Climate Conference in Madrid advised that global emissions of CO2 continue to trend upwards.
The biggest emitters of greenhouses gas are emerging economies such as India and China where hundreds of coal-fired power stations exist and dozens more are being built annually.
Some measures are now being taken to limit greenhouse gas production in many countries, but the well established trendlines to a hotter world remain worrying.
Even if all Australians agreed today with the proposition that a no-carbon energy future was urgently required we are still left with the question of how such a transition could take place more or less ‘overnight’.
Coal still accounts for more than 70 per cent of our electricity generation, gas (16 per cent), hydro (five per cent) and wind (about two per cent).
Proponents argue that coal seam gas (CSG) offers a better energy proposition than coal; it produces 30–60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal-fired power generation.
CSG consists almost wholly of methane. Released on its own into the atmosphere methane would present a problem because it has 27 times the greenhouse warming potential of carbon dioxide.
Critics of CSG extraction claim that ‘fugitive emissions’ from CSG wells represent a big risk. However, a CSIRO pilot study of 43 existing CSG wells in Queensland and NSW established that the volume of such gas represented 0.02 per cent of the volumes extracted and did not constitute a problematic issue at those levels.
Gas well integrity remains, of course, a clear responsibility of CSG producers.
The question of how and when Australia moves to and through a transition period away from carbon-based energy dependence remains a political-economic-social-environmental issue.
Until the Australian Federal and state governments produce a transition road map to allow us to arrive safely and sustainably in a nil-carbon energy future the CSG industry will continue to provide in its own way, a stepping stone towards that future.