The government might call Tony Abbott “Dr No”, but the evidence suggests he is sometimes too ready to say “Yes” and that this is a fault he shares with some of his state colleagues.
Take his recent misstep over coal seam gas.
Talking to Alan Jones Abbott said that he would give landowners the right to prevent mining on their own land. This has now been modified to restrict it to prime farming land. Either way it is over-reach and over-reaction and sees him successfully wedged by the Greens.
It also suggests that the Opposition has no coherent policy on this issue, and this appeared to be confirmed by Malcolm Turnbull’s performance on Q&A last night where he made things worse for the coal seam gas industry, and for Tony.
It is over-reach, because land tenure is the business of state governments, and they give freehold title to the surface, not the subsurface. Not only has Abbott no power over the situation, but he is suggesting transferring rights from one group of entities – the states and people who own mining leases – to another – landowners. This would unjustly enrich one and impoverish the other, and raises an issue of sovereign risk.
It is over-reaction because he is pandering to a constituency that is going to vote for him at the next election whatever he does on this issue, so there is no need to bribe them. If his position can’t be clear, logical and unequivocal on this can we expect any better from an Abbott government than we do from this Gillard one?
Coal seam gas is a much “cleaner” fuel than coal: when it burns it emits much less CO2 into the atmosphere. If you believe CO2 emissions need to be reduced, then apart from nuclear energy, using it for power is one of the few ways of doing this and sustaining a modern lifestyle. It may not be the future, but it is a good halfway house.
Coal is not the only place you find this gas, and in the US it is being extracted from shale seams kilometres under the ground. Reserves have also been found around the world in such amounts that analysts suggest it will remove Saudi Arabia and the Middle East from their crucial position in energy supply, which would be a major benefit for global stability.
Development of this industry is being opposed by the Greens, and many of those who live over exploitable deposits. It is easy to understand the NIMBYs but why the Greens? Afterall, if this is a cleaner technology than coal and oil, shouldn’t they favour it.
They should, but the Greens have staked their sustainable energy dreams on a range of technologies that are unviable for large scale power generation at competitive prices such as solar and wind. So instead of letting the market determine which technology will be used, they want to kneecap one of the competitors to their favoured energy sources before it grows into even an adolescent industry.
Similar dynamics are at work overseas, and a campaign of disinformation has been launched to demonise the gas industry. Josh Fox’s Gasland, part of the propaganda front, has screened in Australia. It’s trying in its own way to do to gas what An Inconvenient Truth did to CO2, and with similar dishonesty.
It is well-worth watching this YouTube Video of film-maker Phelim Macaleer extracting an admission from Fox that the sequence where he lights water coming out of a tap probably has nothing to do with the gas seam industry – ground water in this area has been known to be naturally contaminated with hydro-carbons for decades, and Fox knew that. Fox was so sensitive to the truth that for a while the video was withdrawn by YouTube after threats from his lawyers. Fox indeed.
There are water issues with some of the gas extraction, but these cut both ways. Tiny amounts of chemicals are introduced in the fracking process which is used to make the gas flow, and in one case in Queensland it appears they have got into the ground water. The government has closed that mine using existing environmental legislation.
The majority of extraction is nowhere near ground water and actually provides a potential benefit as it can be desalinated and used for irrigation. It is a major water resource that farmers can potentially use.
Of course it won’t last forever, but then, neither will the Great Artesian Basin, which is a vast reserve of water trapped underground which we have been mining for a century.
Abbott needs to change tack on this issue to not only defend his position, but to advance the legitimate interests of the industry.
Australia has thus far escaped the ravages of the international financial crises because of our mining industry. Our continued good health depends on that industry’s good health.
Next time “No Alan” might be the right answer.