August 2, 2013
Eccentric businessman Clive Palmer has called for a pause on new coal seam gas developments, despite one of his businesses relying on the controversial form of energy for many years.
Now a political aspirant as well as a businessman, Mr Palmer issued a statement on Wednesday urging the coal seam gas industry to slow down until more was known about its impact on people and the environment.
”Let’s take a breather,” he said. ”Lives are a lot more important than the extraction of coal seam gas.”
His comments came after NSW chief scientist Mary O’Kane released a report this week that said it had been found that coal seam gas drilling could pose health and environmental challenges and more research was needed.
Mr Palmer is running for Federal Parliament under the banner of the Palmer United Party, and his comments are likely to be a pitch to rural voters in NSW who are concerned that Queensland’s coal seam gas boom could be repeated in their regions.
”This report raises serious questions about human health, the effects on the environment, water in particular, landholders’ legal rights, and industry regulation and compliance,” Mr Palmer said.
”All governments and companies involved should put their personal interests on hold and support a thorough investigation into these concerns.”
But Mr Palmer’s comments seem at odds with some of his business plays, most notably his nickel refinery near Townsville.
The refinery has used coal seam gas for power since BHP Billiton owned it in about 2006, and its reliance on coal seam gas has increased under Mr Palmer’s ownership.
In a statement published in September 2012, Mr Palmer’s company announced that a roaster at the refinery would be converted from heavy fuel oil to coal seam gas in a move said to reduce the refinery’s carbon footprint, reduce its energy costs and improve its nickel recoveries.
When asked how his call for the industry to ”take a breather” sat with his company’s use of coal seam gas, Mr Palmer said the comparisons were irrelevant.
”It’s to do with coal seam gas development; that’s an already developed area,” he said.
Mr Palmer has a history of investing in companies with exposure to onshore oil and gas. He sought to take control of ASX-listed Central Petroleum in 2012. He ultimately sold down his stake after failing to take control earlier this year.
Central Petroleum is developing a shale oil and gas business, which is similar to coal seam gas drilling, in central Australia and Texas.
While shale is considered less risky for groundwater than coal seam gas drilling, it has been plagued by similar concerns over its impact on seismology and chemical use.
Mr Palmer also has ambitions to develop a business exporting conventional coal from central Queensland, as well as iron ore interests in Western Australia.