Lignite: Fossil fail
Government policy is actively encouraging new fossil fuel extraction in New Zealand in an attempt to boost economic growth.
Most concerning are the plans to mine large deposits of lignite – a low-grade coal – throughout Southland and Otago. This is being doggedly pursued by our (currently) state-owned enterprise Solid Energy and the L & M Group, and several international companies are also interested. Solid Energy has recently received resource consent to build a pilot plant that will dry out lignite to make briquettes that can be used in the same way as regular coal. Plans for the future run much deeper though, with Solid Energy proposing to convert lignite into diesel and urea (a nitrogen fertiliser).There is even a chance that lignite will be used to generate electricity.
Making diesel from lignite would have the worst effects. The process for doing so generates almost twice the emissions as for conventional diesel derived from oil. According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, the development of a single lignite-to-diesel plant of the size currently being talked about would increase New Zealand’s 2020 emissions overshoot by about 20%.
If these plans go ahead, New Zealand could not credibly say that it is taking the climate crisis seriously. Venturing down this path will lock our country into being more dependent on fossil fuels, with all the associated risks, including to our international image. It is even possible that large scale lignite industries could qualify for free carbon credits under the current ETS, leaving an even bigger carbon bill for the taxpayer to pick up.
Want more info?
Coal Action Network Aotearoa is one of the key groups pushing back against the lignite plans – check out their website for more information.
For a really detailed look at the lignite plans from a public health perspective, check out this great resource from one of our partner organisations, Medical Students for Global Awareness. Great stuff MSGA!
And finally there is last year’s report from the Parliamentary Commissioner on the Enviroment, Lignite and climate change: The high cost of low-grade coal.