Victorian Senate Group U: Stopping the Seamier Side of Coal and Gas

At first glance, it seems pretty plain what the Stop CSG Party is going to be about.  Actually, that’s not true, because I had to look up CSG, not having seen the abbreviation before.  It turns out that it stands for Coal Seam Gas mining, and that a lot of people think that this is a very bad thing.

Coal Seam Gas Mining turns out to be one of the things that I know absolutely nothing about, so since the odds are that it will turn out to be relevant to this particular political party, I thought I’d better have a quick look online and find out.  According to the Internet, coal seam gas is another way of saying coalbed methane, which is apparently a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds.  If this is still clear as mud to you, you aren’t alone.  Apparently, this is one of the flammable gases found in coalmines that can lead to explosions and other exceedingly undesirable effects when one is mining coal.  It is, obviously, used as an energy source.

If you ask Asia Pacific LNG, they will tell you that it produces 90% of Queensland’s gas needs and 15% of its electricity generation, and that it is a ‘key transition fuel, helping to lower our carbon emissions’.  However, opponents to coal seam gas are concerned at the amount of water required in drilling for the gas, and that CSG mining produces a large amount of waste water which is salty and contain toxic and radioactive elements, which may contaminate the water table.  This sounds less good.

The Stop CSG Party, as you might guess, falls into the latter camp.  Let’s start by looking at their group voting ticket.

First preference on this ticket goes to Senator Online, which makes sense for an activist group who can be relied on to badger their Senator when needed!  They then move on to HEMP and Bullet Train for Australia, before reaching the Democrats, the Sex Party and the Stable Population Party.  This would seem to establish their hippie credentials, but the first semi-major party to get their preference is Family First, which is not known for its hippie ways (though it is pro-farmer, which tends to mean against CSG).  At around about 38 on the ticket, they get around to the Greens and then Labor, and then at around 73 they start alternating candidates from places like One Nation, Smokers Rights, the DLP, the various outdoor and fishing parties, and the LDP.  Looks like they either know these people individually or couldn’t decide who they liked least.  The bottom five places on their ticket alternate between the Climate Sceptics and Rise Up Australia, with Mark Farrell of the DLP dead last at 97, so obviously they’ve really taken against him, because his colleague Stephanie Mazzarella is at 81.

On to the policies!

Their website informs us that:

Across Australia, people are finding their livelihoods and communities under attack from Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining.  

The Stop CSG Party’s mission is to protect Australia from volatile coal seam gas and other unconventional gas mining by pushing for a ban in parliament.  

CSG is one of the most critical issues facing Australia today. We must make this a key issue in this year’s federal election.

Join us and help protect our land in parliament.

Protecting land and protecting communities and livelihoods has a bit of a farming ring to it, so this party may be sitting at the intersection of regional / farming issues and environmental issues.  One of the candidates, Brian Monk, has a very personal history and objection to CSG mining:

In 2006, Carbon Energy, an underground coal gasification company demanded access to drill an exploration well.  In the process, the company destroyed their aquifer, which after 2 years of fighting, they finally redrilled their bore.

Their property and health continues to be adversely affected by the neighbouring mines. “My water bore ignites and the Government says there is no flammable gas present, the very start of the impacts on ground water. 

“The grandkids suffer a lot, they get rashes, they get headaches.”

Their central policy is, as is probably evident, to stop extraction and use of coal seam gas an other forms of unconventional gas, which Stop CSG views as ‘unsustainable and damaging to the environment, people and the economy.’

They want to encourage development of renewable energies, and reward energy efficiency, and they want to phase out fossil fuel energy.

  • Renewable energy industries can create more jobs, cause less environmental damage harm and generate greater economic activity within Australia’s borders than non-renewable energy sources.
  • Whilst every government has a policy which allows subsidies this policy should be regressive or punitive on environmentally damaging, medically or socially harmful industries and progressive or supportive on sustainable industries.
  • Incentives must be flexible through time. All industries and processes should ultimately be able to be self –funding, with a minimum of government or other subsidisation.

Stop CSG is, unsusprisingly, very passionate about water use and pollution, and point to adverse impacts of water availability and quality resulting from the Coal Seam Gas industry.

In terms of land management, they are fairly even-handed in terms of rights and responsibilities.  Land ownership “comes with obligations to care for, nurture and manage the land”, and landowners should be guaranteed the right of refusal of entry to their land if they choose. This could have interesting implications for other areas of life that I don’t think the Stop the CSG party has considered (meter readings or visits from child safety officers are two fairly random possibilities that come to mind).  But land ownership does not come with absolute rights, and there is an obligation to the wider community as well:

Where a landowner so chooses he may enter into negotiation over just terms for land access and in negotiation the landowner must also consider the impact of access not on only their own land but also on land and atmosphere and waterways in the broader neighbourhood or district….Where an activity or proposed land use for any land can be shown by independently verified and validated scientific, economic and social research to be damaging or create a net community wide disadvantage the landowner must not grant that access or use.

Moreover, anyone – landholder or otherwise – who causes damage to the land or the ecosystem, must bear the full and ongoing costs of rehabilitation.

Their policies continue along through a number of areas, but each with the same guiding principles; essentially, that no business or industrial activities should be allowed which can be proven to be injurious to human health or the environment, that research must be conducted before any proposed process begins to show that it will not be harmful “to any person, waterway, atmosphere or other earth system, anywhere, at any time, now or into the future.”, but if it turns out that they are wrong about this, whoever caused the damage is responsible for fixing it, providing appropriate compensation, and so forth.  In decision making, if this burden cannot be met, then no activity can commence.

Look, I’m all about research and about thinking about the consequences before acting, and I’m absolutely about making people responsible for the consequences of their actions, but even to me, this standard sounds far too high.  For one thing, it’s just about impossible to ‘prove’ anything to this degree, and particularly once you add in the caveat ‘at any time, now or into the future’.  You can show that there is a very low risk, certainly, and you can follow the process along and keep tabs on outcomes for future planning, but at some point, you have to actually start, or you’ll never find out what the long-term issues are, because you will never reach the long term.

My feeling is that these are good and conscientious people who have been badly burned by industry in general and CSG companies in particular, and they want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and that’s a good thing – but under these rules, I don’t think you could ever develop any sort of technology at all.  At some point, there will be risks, and one can be responsible about taking them, but the whole point with science is that you don’t know all the results of your experiment until you do the experiment.  You can make predictions based on past experience or on other evidence, but you can’t know for sure.  And the Stop CSG people seem to want you to know for sure.

Stop CSG is also in favour of transparency and access to information by the public, which I think is an excellent principle.  They want to monitor industry compliance and social, environmental and economic impacts, though they don’t actually say who will do the monitoring.

And they want lots of regulation, lots and lots and lots of it.

All those ‘cut the red tape’ parties must really hate that.

Though, to be fair, they add that

  • Business and organisations have the right to act in an environment that has the least unreasonable regulation and the most stable governance through time. Business and government are encouraged to work closely with the broad community to identify, develop and implement the least complex, most mutually agreeable and manageable regime of governance.

Finally, they return to the environment – which they never really left – and acknowledge concerns about carbon and global warming.

  • Elevated levels of carbon are having an adverse impact on human wellbeing, earth systems and ecosystems and we must immediately undertake a sustained process of carbon sequestration and carbon emission reduction.
  • The cost of carbon management must be shared by industries, businesses, individuals, government and the broadest community.  Carbon management is an international issue and must be subject of global coordination and cooperation.

And that, I can agree with.

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One thought on “Victorian Senate Group U: Stopping the Seamier Side of Coal and Gas

  1. Pingback: My personal How to Vote Card… | Cate Speaks

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