This year a large investigation (a bioregional assessment) into all the possible effects of CSG on water commenced in earnest. It is a project funded by the Federal Government with many scientific project partners including the CSIRO. The project is based exclusively in the first case, on the compilation of scientific information. It is at arms-length from government and politics, so it is entirely technical. Therefore, this assessment is something which I personally find interesting and feel is of great value. The project scope has been set up by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Mining Development. The committee was established in 2012 and works under the authority of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. A link to the CSIROs summary of its involvement can be found here.
The Clarence-Moreton basin bioregional assessment itself is one part of many bioregional assessments in numerous Australian coal basins. These assessments are themselves divided up into many different components including hydrogeology, ecology, ecotoxicology, environmental protection and many others. The presentation that I attended was specifically related to the hydrogeological modelling that is being developed. It briefly covered the different data sources and data limitations that were going to go into the modelling. It was good to see the thoughtfulness and consideration given to all the hydrogeological issues. Sometimes just figuring out what needs to go into a model is very hard in itself… but by far the hardest task is making sure the modelling reflects the real world. This is because of the varying amounts of "weighting" required to each of the input variables.
However, one of the things that saddens me is the lack of media time this assessment has been given. Many people are concerned that not enough is known about CSG activities in our region or in Australia or even more broadly, around the world. The media tends to focus on the conflicts that are occurring and not on the advances in technical knowledge that will lead to better decision making in the near future. The media does not seem to like reporting on things that we are learning but instead increases the confusion about matters that could lead to social conflict. Conflict, not cooperation seems to sell newspapers these days.
I was also a little saddened by some questions that were asked of the CSIRO presenters. One (Environmental Economics and Policy Academic!) asked whether it was ethical to undertake this assessment because it may lead to a CSG development being regarded as “safe”. To consider an increase in human knowledge of the world in which we live un-ethical is a big worry for me. Especially from a senior academic. In many ways it questions the very basic concepts of scientific endeavour. Having a scientific background, I feel we should not avoid learning something new because the facts that may arise could potentially contradict with a pre-determined world view. We are of-course moving from science to philosophy. I know my philosophical motives in life are to use knowledge to give the best outcomes for the environment and people that live in our region.
So, to end on this philosophical note: I recommend thinking about the knowledge that we have and how we use or ignore it. The media practice of looking only at conflict and dumbing down its stories on scientific and technical matters is well entrenched. I’m starting to genuinely believe that the media is making it harder to distinguish between facts and opinions purely in the media’s self-interest of creating a story to make money from. Recognising this is helpful to understanding where scientific information can guide us in the right decisions, as such I provide here a link to an ABC presentation on the media by an excellent modern day philosopher (one of my favourite non-science authors) Alain De Botton.