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Anti-CBM group accused of falsifying claims

Submissions include text copied and unreferenced from a US study of the country’s shale-gas industry

Lock the Gate, one of the most outspoken groups opposing coal-bed methane (CBM) development in Australia, has been accused of falsifying claims by US researchers in submissions to government inquiries.

The submissions include text copied and unreferenced from a US study of the country’s shale-gas industry, with the words coal-seam gas (as CBM is known in Australia) substituted for the words shale gas. The study the group has drawn its material from makes no mention of CBM or the Australian industry, says the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea).

The Lock the Gate Alliance’s submissions to both the Federal Senate inquiry into the management of the Murray Darling basin and the New South Wales Legislative Council inquiry into CBM, purport to include information sourced from a Cornell University study into greenhouse-gas emissions from shale gas.

Belinda Robinson, the chief executive of Appea said the submissions by the activist group should be disregarded after Lock the Gate conceded its work was inaccurate and misleading. Robinson said two parliamentary inquiries have been misled and this brings into question the integrity and credibility of those responsible.

The submissions’ inaccuracies stem from parallels it attempted to draw between Australia’s CBM developments and the shale-gas industry in the US. The alliance’s submissions adapted US shale references in a Cornell University study and attempted to make it look relevant to Australia’s industry.

Critics argue shale-gas exploration has greater environmental effects compared with CBM exploration. While gas from CBM deposits and shale deposits are chemically very similar, there are significant differences in their extraction methods.

CBM reservoirs are shallower and have a higher concentration of gas than shale reservoirs. As a result, shale reservoirs always require hydraulic fracturing (fracking), while only around half of CBM deposits do. But there are still significant risks posed by CBM developments, including lowering the water table, gas contamination of aquifers and leaking wells.

Misleading submissions

The misleading submissions by the Lock the Gate Alliance follow recent statements by the group’s president, Drew Hutton, warning about false claims being made about CBM by industry proponents. Hutton said recently he wanted to ensure people were not "hoodwinked by phoney claims", although the Cornell University study cited in the Lock the Gates submissions does not contain the information in the manner his group attributed to it.

''The study that Lock the Gate drew its material from makes no mention of coal-seam gas and is of no relevance to the Australian coal-seam gas industry,” said Robinson. ''What is particularly disappointing, is the poor level of scrutiny being applied to the very groups calling for a fact-based discussion.''

Hutton said the change to the shale gas reference was an honest mistake.

The fight over Australia’s rapidly expanding CBM industry has been an often divisive argument. In the latest action, last week, heated arguments led to a group of Queensland landholders locking their gates to mining exploration by Bowen Energy.

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