Lies, damn lies and blurring the truth: CSG in Australia

Trying to get the truth in an issue as controversial as CSG/fracking is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The mining companies need to manipulate the truth to make an environmentally questionable process seem clean and green. The people against fracking don’t need to manipulate the truth – the facts are on their side. But they still twist things and it makes me furious – by doing so, they undercut their own legitimacy.

Consider the following FAQ from NoGasMininginSydney.com:

[The] process involves pumping fluid comprising water, sand and other additives such as BTEX (BTEX is an acronym for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene compounds) at high pressure down the cased CSG well and into the coal seam. This action fractures the coal seam and provides a pathway to facilitate gas flow through the coal.

True. No lies there at all. BTEX is usually used in the fracking process and it is a cocktail of extremely dangerous chemicals. What they fail to mention though, is that:

BTEX chemicals (benzene, tolulene, ethylbenzene and xylenes) are not used in Australian fraccing operations. Indeed,Queenslandand NSW have banned the use of BTEX chemicals in fraccing. (from the generally dubious WeWantCSG.com.au website).

Why? Why would you fail to mention this, when frankly:

  • The list of chemicals still being used is pretty nasty, including

Boric acid

According to boric acid IUCLID Dataset published by the European Commission, boric acid in high doses shows significant developmental toxicity and teratogenicity in rabbit, rat, and mouse fetuses as well as cardiovascular defects, skeletal variations, mild kidney lesions.

2-Butoxyethanol

Moderate respiratory exposure to 2-butoxyethanol often results in irritation of mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. Heavy exposure via respiratory, dermal or oral routes can lead to hypotension, metabolic acidosis, hemolysis, pulmonary edema and coma. Luckily, it’s not known to bioaccumulate

Muriatic Acid

Concentrated hydrochloric acid (fuming hydrochloric acid) forms acidic mists. Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines. Upon mixing hydrochloric acid with common oxidizing chemicals, such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach, NaClO) or potassium permanganate (KMnO4), the toxic gas chlorine is produced. And guess what? Sodium hypochlorite is also in the fracking fluids.

Methanol

Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If ingested, for example, as little as 10 mL of pure methanol can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, and 30 ml is potentially fatal, although a fatal dose is typically 100–125 ml (4 fl oz) (i.e. 1–2 ml/kg of pure methanol). The initial symptoms of methanol intoxication include central nervous system depression, headache, dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, confusion, and with sufficiently large doses, unconsciousness and death

All these chemicals are from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Ltd Fact sheet. Wiki gave me the safety info…

  • The amount of water that is contaminated is enormous

While the amount of water used varies according to exactly the type of fracking that is taking place, it seems that it’s always an enormous amount of water that is pumped into the ground, contaminated and rendered unusable. This seems like a terrible idea in drought-prone Australia. Two years ago, they built a desalination plant in Sydney, as we were starting to run low on water for human use.

  • The GHG emissions from CSG are even higher than those of coal over the long term, especially when the risk of leakage is taken into account

[Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. suggests] that natural gas could even rival greenhouse gas emissions from mining and burning coal–the dirtiest of fossil fuels. He says it’s “not significantly better than coal in terms of the consequences of global warming” and is calling for a moratorium on extracting natural gas from shale, which requires more energy (and so emits more greenhouse gases) than extracting it from conventional natural gas sources.

Further to that, the risks posed by any methane leakage are incredible in terms of GHG emissions. Methane has a CO2 equivalent of 25, i.e. it’s 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

I’ll still be there on Sunday. But I don’t want to see the truth about an issue this important getting blurry.

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