THE Greens say an attempt by the Federal Government to better measure fugitive emissions from coal seam gas operations is too little, too late.
Climate Change Minister Greg Combet this week released a discussion paper setting out proposals to introduce CSG-specific measurement and estimation methods into Australia's greenhouse gas reporting framework.
Mr Combet said the paper had been produced in response to intense lobbying from experts and the community about the need to measure methane emissions from CSG operations.
"Methane is one of the most potent of the greenhouse gases which are building up in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change," Mr Combet said.
"The discussion paper proposes improving existing methods for directly measuring emissions from core CSG extraction and production activities, by drawing on the latest approaches adopted in the United States."
Under the proposals, it would be mandatory for CSG facilities using hydraulic fracturing technology, commonly known as fracking, to use direct measurement rather than alternative methods for estimating fugitive emissions.
The new direct measurement methods would be available from July 1 but would only become mandatory from July 2015.
In addition the discussion paper foreshadowed further changes to emissions estimation methods, including developing a new method for estimating emissions from decommissioned CSG wells.
Mr Combet said his department had been working for months on reviewing existing methods for measuring CSG emissions.
Page MP Janelle Saffin, a fierce opponent of CSG operations on the New South Wales North Coast, praised the work of Southern Cross University researchers Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher.
Their study of methane emission levels at Queensland CSG fields formed part of the department's review.
"Their research challenged CSG industry claims that it was a clean energy source and that emissions were 'negligible'," Ms Saffin said.
But the release of the discussion paper drew a sharp rebuke from Greens Leader Christine Milne, who said it was a "shameful and belated admission" that both state and federal governments had signed off on CSG operations without knowing their full impact.
Senator Milne was also critical of the suggested two-year lag before forcing CSG companies to adhere to the new reporting requirements.
"This is a shocking breach of the precautionary principle and another example of the Labor and Liberal parties racing into the arms of the miners and not being able to be trusted to look after our agricultural land and water," Senator Milne said.
"We need a moratorium on the roll-out of CSG and these new conditions should apply to all existing operations immediately and their carbon liabilities adjusted accordingly."
Senator Milne dismissed the release of the discussion paper as a cynical ploy to win votes ahead of the federal election.
And she said it was too limited in its scope.
"The minister needs to explain why the improved monitoring regime will only be mandatory for CSG operations where fracking has been used. What about other types of CSG operations?" she said.
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