As noted in my earlier article, the federal government’s position on the way CSG fugitive emissions are currently assessed is supported by the “indpendent analysis” of the “Wilkenfeld report”. The Wilkenfeld report is an “…independent analysis” commissioned by the government and conducted by George Wilkenfeld and associates, an environmental consulting firm.

I’m very interested to find out what that report contains to justify the federal government’s position – which amounts to stating that CSG fugitive emissions are not a problem. So are the Australian Greens, particularly climate change spokesperson Chrstine Milne. Senator Penny Wong, in a response to an earlier question by Milne, has already acknowledged that the report doesn’t actually contain any independent data collection, but Milne and the Greens are continuing to seek its release, only to be knocked back in the Senate by the major parties. But what could it possibly say that would make the government so keen to keep it under wraps?

Of course, George Wilkenfeld himself is unlikely to comment directly on the contents of his report. But it turns out he’s already made his views on CSG fugitive emissions public, in an op-ed written for the Fairfax press arguing strongly against using CSG in New South Wales:

Conventional natural gas production can be managed to control leakage of unburnt methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and to remove any naturally occurring CO2 from the gas stream (hopefully, for reinjection into the gas reservoir). Coal seam production is more dispersed and less controlled. There is a risk of methane bypassing the well and bubbling up with the contaminated water and through surface fractures. The overall greenhouse impact could be worse than burning coal. The size of the production zone makes it difficult to monitor methane leakage and, if detected, not much can be done other than wait for the flow to stop.

Yes, that’s right. The government’s own handpicked expert thinks that the “overall greenhouse impact could be worse than burning coal”, and has been prepared to say so publicly. It’s hard to imagine that his advice to the government would have been significantly different.

And it’s also hard not to conclude that the government has seen this particular advice, and decided that the easiest response is to hide it and hope the issue goes away, rather than acting.

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