TWO SCU scientists made national news headlines this week with their study into the fugitive emissions of gas fields in Queensland. Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher have done the first studies into background levels of methane in the atmosphere (typically found at around 1.8 parts per million in areas where there is no gas exploration) and comparing that to the levels of methane around the Tara gas fields, where they found readings as high as 7 parts per million in some locations.
Their findings, whilst preliminary, could have a number of implications for coal seam gas producers.
The main justification for developing the industry is that gas is a 'transition fuel' that has significantly lower emissions than burning coal. But if the levels of 'fugitive emissions' detected by the SCU scientists are found consistently around gas producing areas, the whole raison d'etre disappears in an explosive methane fuelled fireball, because apparently methane that escapes into the atmosphere (as opposed to being burnt) is a much more serious greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The other thing that could be a game-changer for the industry is that if the fugitive emissions can be quantified and attract a carbon tax, then the economic model falls apart.
Predictably, the industry has come out and criticised the research as being 'premature' and lacking scientific rigour.
But then on Tuesday the Federal Minister for Resources Martin Ferguson spoke out at an energy conference in Sydney, describing the scientists involved as "people who are trying to score political points without proper consideration of the best interests of the broader community" (Sydney Morning Herald, November 20).
He also admitted that he had not read the study by Dr Santos and Dr Maher.
This is an incredible attack on the credibility and independence of the scientists and, to me, the clearest indication yet that both federal and state governments are so cosy with sections of the mining industry that they are prepared to do their bidding for them.
Sure there needs to be a lot more research done, but to dismiss it out of hand smacks of outrageous complicity.