Coal seam gas (CSG) is a controversial way of extracting natural gas. While many Australians hold strong views against it, a surprising number are only vaguely aware of the issue. In addition to feeling generally uninformed, many people also express unease about CSG because of the controversy surrounding it. A survey conducted by The Australia Institute has found that more than a third (36 per cent) of people had not heard of coal seam gas.
The survey shows only 30 per cent of respondents were able to identify that CSG extraction took place in both rural and urban areas – more than a third of respondents were not sure where it took place. When asked if they knew the difference between CSG and liquefied natural gas (LNG), 81 per cent said they didn’t know the difference.
The effect of CSG on agricultural land was a major concern among respondents, with 96 per cent opposed to CSG extraction if it reduces the productivity of the land – 56 per cent were opposed to CSG extraction even if the farmer whose land was affected was in favour of the project going ahead. This seems to show that for the majority of people the concern is for the land, not just the current owners of the land.
The survey shows that CSG’s effect on the environment, particularly on water and farming land, is a considerable concern for Australians. This has led to strong support for the rights of farmers to stop CSG extraction on their land. A significant majority – 89 per cent of respondents – think farmers should have to right to say no to CSG on their own land.
The survey also finds that the public tends to weigh up CSG projects in terms of economic benefit versus environmental cost. When survey respondents were asked to nominate their concerns about CSG, the top four were damage to the local environment, negative impacts on farming land, damage to people’s health and water contamination. All of these are environmental concerns.
When asked to nominate the benefits of CSG, the respondents’ top four were that increased gas supply would make gas cheaper, that increased gas production would act as a bridging fuel on the transition to renewables, that it would create more jobs and that there would be increased economic activity. These are overwhelmingly economic benefits, and they are refuted in this report. The only environmental benefit that ranked highly was gas acting as a bridging fuel to renewables. While this is an environmental benefit it contains an economic aspect since gas is seen as a cheap alternative to renewables in combating climate change.
The survey also shows that CSG is not an issue that many people think of when asked about what politicians should give more attention to. Only two per cent of respondents ranked CSG as their top choice when asked to select from a list of 15 issues they thought politicians should take action on.
The gas industry has made no genuine effort to allay the fears of the broader public about coal seam gas and this has given rise to high profile community groups that strongly oppose CSG for a number of reasons. Action from these groups and other individuals has led to the gas industry failing to gain a social licence for its projects. The result has been federal and state governments introducing further restrictions on CSG, and renewed debate about the role of coal seam gas in Australia’s energy mix.