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Coal puts its case as fuel of choice

THE coal industry has vigorously defended itself against claims its product is outdated, pointing the finger instead at natural gas, suggesting it is a significant source of air pollution in Australia.

Last week’s WA Business News included a story about the cleanliness of the respective fuels. In part, the story cited figures that show burning coal releases 80 per cent more carbon dioxide than burning gas.

But Barry Kelly, Premier Coal’s general manager marketing and business development, said methane was the main greenhouse gas produced in WA, with the agricultural and the gas industries the top two emitters.

Coal mined at Collie, unlike the coal mined in Australia’s eastern states, had no embedded methane in it.

“The stuff they put down the pipeline is basically methane, which is an extremely intensive greenhouse gas,” Mr Kelly said.

“They maintain the losses are just accounting losses, not real losses. But if you look nationally, as these pipelines get older and the compressor stations get older, those losses will increase.”

Compared with carbon dioxide, methane has a relatively short atmospheric life of 10 to 15 years. Over a period of 10 years, however, 10 kilograms of methane has the same warming effect as 1,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Mr Kelly also pointed to future gas developments, such as the Chevron-operated Gorgon gas field off the north WA coast. He claimed carbon dioxide constituted up to 14 per cent of the gas content from that field and, after processing that waste, gas would have to be somehow disposed of.

“Everything the gas industry is saying is not totally true; we’re not saying it’s untrue, and in some cases it is true, but some of the fields they have to develop in the future have massive quantities of carbon dioxide in them before they start,” Mr Kelly said.

The WA coal industry believes it has been undermined by rhetoric from gas company representatives, with the effect that the State Government has shunned coal as its fuel of choice.

To counter this, the industry has gone directly to Parliament House with its message. Coal representatives met Energy Minister Eric Ripper last week and have also briefed other senior ministers and backbenchers from all parties on the industry’s point of view.

Mr Kelly said most of the politicians spoken to understood the economic and social arguments for keeping the WA coal industry in good health, and therefore was hopeful that gas’s growing foothold as a generator fuel would be balanced by a stable role for coal.

He said coal-fired power stations continued to be built across the world, particularly in Asia, as generating efficiency improves and emissions were reduced.

“There are two major fuel sources in this State – North West Shelf and Collie coal – and we should not be disadvantaging one, which we think has happened this decade,” Mr Kelly said.

“Four power stations are going to be built this decade. The first three are going to gas, and coal doesn’t even get a chance to compete until the fourth one – we think that’s a bit biased.”

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