There was an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend, which posed the same question to four different stakeholders in the CSG industry:
Is coal seam gas worth the risk?
The article was a really good way to get inside the minds of different parties and see how each person (or industry) decides the ‘worth’ of CSG and what constitutes a ‘risk’. A brief summary of each viewpoint below:
The miner highlighted the ubiquity of CSG and highlighted the economic potential of the industry. He downplayed the environmental risk by emphasising the high level of regulation in the industry. So what did the miner perceive to be a risk? Interestingly, he was concerned that the industry might fall over, that we might miss the opportunity to reap the benefits.
The activist felt that the risk of losing agricultural land, contaminating water resources and impacting upon human health was too high to make CSG worthwhile. Of main concern was the lack of ‘social license’ (community acceptance of the CSG extraction process). The activist feels that the community is unable to grant social license until they are convinced that the long term risk to the environment, health and the community is acceptable.
The doctor states that some of the chemicals used in CSG extraction could harm human health, including increasing risk of cancer (though concedes that dose and duration of exposure are important). She also describes the potential mental health impacts of mining in the community, including division within the community, although this issue is not CSG specific. Overall, the doctor recommends that the precautionary principle be applied; CSG is not worth the risk until better health protections are in place.
The academic also argues for precautionary action. He recognises that CSG extraction will go ahead but urges us to slow down, consider the risks and focus on the extraordinary risks. In this way, economic development will not be stymied, but we won’t race ahead and take risks which result in catastrophic and irreversible damage.
So what do you think? Whose perception of risk matches your own? Or do you recognise all the risks as valid? In my mind, the academic recommended the most pragmatic approach and I also feel he is in the best position to consider the different facets of risk (economic, health, social, environmental).