While positive progress is being made towards decarbonising Australia’s electricity sector, it is quietly but visibly being undermined by the rapid growth of Australia’s gas sector, a new analysis of emissions data has laid clear.
The Australian Conservation Foundation undertook an analysis of corporate emissions data, collected and published by the Clean Energy Regulator, and it shows that Australia’s emergence as the world’s largest gas exporter has helped drive global emissions higher overseas, as well as locally.
“This analysis shows the gas industry is already having a massive, unacceptable impact on our climate,” ACF climate change campaign Suzanne Harter says. “Existing gas projects and facilities are responsible for around 49% as much climate pollution as Australia’s coal-fired power stations produce annually.”
“Gas projects and gas-fired industrial facilities produced more than five times as much climate pollution in the last financial year as the old Liddell coal-fired power station did.”
Harter says the report shows that the growth of Australia’s gas industry was only leading to increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
Citing the latest emissions data released through the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme, ACF found that Australian gas projects and facilities using gas in industrial processes were responsible for around 81 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2018-19, around 15 per cent of Australia’s total emissions.
This is before emissions from gas-fired generation, mining operations or household gas use are taken into account.
“To describe gas as a transition fuel is downright dangerous in a world now tracking rapidly toward 3.4 degrees of heating,” Harter added
“New gas projects would lock in decades more climate pollution and risk becoming stranded assets as the world continues moving to clean energy.”
“Rather than prop up dinosaur industries that cause climate change and destroy nature, Australia can choose a different path to re-build the economy and tackle the climate crisis,” Harter added.
While many of Australia’s largest coal-fired power stations are often the focus of debate over how to tackle Australia’s comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions, ACF’s analysis highlights the similarly large contributions major gas projects make to Australia’s carbon footprint.
The Chevron Gorgon gas project was singled out by ACF as a particularly large contributor to Australia’s growing gas emissions. The project emitted 8.97 million tonnes of carbon emissions in the 2018-19 year, and exceeded the project’s baseline under the Safeguard Mechanism in both of the last two years, with more than 1.3 million tonnes of excess emissions.
The Gorgon gas project had a larger carbon footprint in 2018-19 than the ageing Liddell coal-fired power station.
Woodside’s North West Shelf gas project was also responsible for more than 7.4 million tonnes of carbon pollution, more than Delta Electricity’s Vales Point coal-fired power station.
While gas is able to achieve a lower emissions intensity compared to coal when used for electricity generation, when fugitive gas that has escaped during extraction or transport was taken into account, any emissions savings through a shift to gas were effectively erased.
Natural gas mostly consists of methane, which as a global warming potential that is 28-times worse than that of carbon dioxide.
A study undertaken by the CSIRO found that if just three per cent of the gas extracted ultimately escaped into the atmosphere as methane, it would completely wipe out any benefits of using gas as a “transition fuel” from coal.
If the emissions from gas use were to be offset using abatement purchased through the Emissions Reduction Fund, ACF estimates that it would cost billions each year, based on current prices.
“If the Government had purchased the commensurate abatement in the last Emissions Reduction Fund auction, it would have cost the taxpayer $1.3 billion,” ACF found in its report.
The Morrison government has strongly advocated for a ‘gas led recovery’ from the economic impacts of Covid-19, despite the industry proving to be a troubled part of the Australian economy to date.
“This has never been more important – particularly as we begin our recovery from the impact of the COVID19 pandemic,” federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor said last week. “This is why the Australian Government believes a gas-fired recovery will drive jobs and economic growth.”
“We now need state and territory governments to do their part to unlock more gas for the domestic market and encourage investment in reliable generation which will put downward pressure on wholesale prices.”
A leaked report from a working group of the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, showed that the body stacked with gas industry executives is advising the Morrison government to channel further subsidies into the gas sector.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has announced a A$1.25 trillion green stimulus plan, that will help the European Economic Zone emerge from the Covid-19 economic crisis while tackling climate change.
RenewEconomy and its sister sites One Step Off The Grid and The Driven will continue to publish throughout the Covid-19 crisis, posting good news about technology and project development, and holding government, regulators and business to account. But as the conference market evaporates, and some advertisers pull in their budgets, readers can help by making a voluntary donation here to help ensure we can continue to offer the service free of charge and to as wide an audience as possible. Thank you for your support.