Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Coal Seam Gas in Australia: Is the CSIRO helping the mining industry 'manage' the debate?

If it the issue wasn’t so serious for the NSW North Coast it would have been amusing to see this in The Daily Examiner state on 28 March 2012:

We asked the Australian Science Media Centre if it could provide us with information not coloured by vested interests and it provided us with a briefing by Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance director Dr Peter Stone, University of Newcastle coal geologist and sedimentary petrologist Dr Judy Bailey and CSIRO petroleum and geothermal portfolio director Dr Edson Nakagawa.

Not coloured by vested interests is a big claim to make considering that the CSIRO is no longer the dependable, disinterested source it used to be given the number of commercial relationships it has developed over the years.

The CSIRO itself is very open about its wealth creation aims:

So let us start with the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance.

This is ABC Rural on 13 July 2011:

A commonwealth scientific body and a coal seam gas company have today announced a $14 million dollar joint research venture.
The Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance or GISERA is between the CSIRO and Australia Pacific LNG.
CSIRO's deputy chief of Ecosystem Sciences Dr Peter Stone says it'll draw scientific contributions from all across the country.
He says he hopes more of the industry's companies will come on board.

Australia Pacific LNG is a coal seam gas producer and GISERA appears to act as a R&D agent for the oil and gas industry, which may eventually lead to a widespread public perception that it is riddled with conflicts of interest.

Where does Dr Peter Stone fit into this scenario?

Dr. Stone has a background in crop and food research and an interest in land management. One has to hope that he has no vested interest in relation to mining. However, at best he appears ambivilant.
This article High risk demands stronger regulation of mining projects in The Australian on 26 November 2011 does not reassure as it begins:
WHEN CSIRO scientist Peter Stone briefed federal MPs and staff on coal-seam gas earlier this month, those in the room with some understanding of the likely effects were taken aback by his low-risk characterisation of the mammoth CSG projects that involved 40,000 production wells in southeast Queensland.

What about Dr Judy Bailey?

Well, her University of Newcastle profile shows minimum involvement with mining companies – except for the Orica Australia "Mineral sequestration in the Great Serpentine Belt, NSW" 2008 $6,500 funding grant – so it is easier to see her as an independent voice.

As for Dr Edson Nakagawa?

Dr. Edson is apparently a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and prior to joining the CSIRO apparently spent twenty years working for Petrobas in Brazil, starting in 1980. Petrobas has shown an interest in Australia and, also appears to use CSIRO technology in its operations overseas.
His current role is focussed on the development and deployment of tools, technology and knowledge to advanced petroleum exploration, conventional and unconventional gas production, alternative transport fuels and the demonstration of geothermal energy in Australia according to the introduction to December 2011 Australian Science Media Centre briefing.
A profile which does not inspire confidence in his objectivity.

The Daily Examiner attempted a balanced article. It was unfortunate that it wasn't alert to problems with its less than discriminating referral source, the Australian Science Media Centre. At least the newspaper ended the article with links (originally inert):

So you can judge the views of these individuals for yourselves and, whether you think they are likely to say one thing to regional journalists and another to government decision makers.
Whether any GISERA formal report will have a predestined pro-mining conclusion irrespective of what the science is actually saying.

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