Environmental and Community Risks
Fossil fuel energy systems inflict grave damage to the economy, to human health, and to the environment, local and global scales.
The process of extracting fossil fuels and its use in power generation causes great damage to local communities. This takes the form of severe health effects, environmental degradation, and economic growth that cannot be sustained in the long term.
The harmful impacts that coal mining and combustion have on human health through the coal dust and pollutants that are generated are well documented. For adults living in mining communities or near coal-fired power stations there is an increased risk of death from lung, laryngeal and bladder cancers, chronic heart and kidney diseases, as well as increased asthma rates. Research has shown that the impacts can be seen from an early age, however, with these communities experiencing higher rates of miscarriages and stillbirths, and impaired child growth and neurological development.
Coal Seam Gas (CSG)
Coal seams contain both water and gas. During coal seam gas operations a large amount of water must be pumped out of the coal seam to lower the pressure and allow the gas to flow to the surface. This water – called ‘produced’ water – is high in salt and heavy metal content, and there are risks that the drilling process can contaminate nearby aquifers that provide water for household consumption and crop irrigation.
Irreparable scarring of landscapes, soil degradation and the depletion of habitat and biodiversity are serious negative impacts of coal mining. Whilst many mining companies engage in mine site ‘rehabilitation’, this is often tokenistic and fails to restore damaged ecosystems.
Coal Seam Gas (CSG)
There are risks that the ‘produced’ water high in salt and heavy metal content is released into the surrounding environment, killing nearby vegetation and contaminating waterways. Also, the establishment of many well heads requires significant land clearing.
We recognise that coal mining has been of great historical significance for the economic and cultural basis of many communities. However, local economies reliant on mining are susceptible to the boom-bust cycle of the resource market, and will ultimately have to make a shift to non-extractive industries. The sooner we ensure that workers in these communities make a just transition to non-extractive industries, the sooner we will ensure their long term health.
Coal seam gas
The controversial CSG process can divide previously close-knit rural communities, increasing tension and disharmony, impact on local economies, and threaten other industries – particularly the food production sector.
Governments around the world are signatories to the Copenhagen Accord, where they agreed that average global temperatures must not rise by more than 2°C. Meeting this target means that much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves cannot be burnt.
Research has shown that fossil fuel companies have in their reserves, and are ready to burn, up to five times the amount of carbon that will take the world over the 2°C limit.
Currently, the monetary value of fossil fuel companies does not take this fact into account. This means that firms are overvalued, and that they are investing huge amounts of money in minerals that may never leave the ground.
Financial markets themselves are not adequately pricing this uncertainty and risk that the fossil fuel companies face, with the result that sinking money into the industry could very well be an unsound investment.
Help us tell the ANU’s that investing in fossil fuels is a risky business!
If you’d like to know more about the financial risks behind fossil fuel investments, see our additional resources section.
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