Worley Parsons says LNG exports could be worse than coal

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The full report by leading engineering consultants Worley Parsons confirms its previous findings that coal seam gas exported to China is not necessarily less emissions intensive than coal, and could be significantly worse if best practice is not observed.

The report, prepared by Professor Paul Hardisty, the global director, Sustainability and EcoNomicsm for WorleyParsons, also questions the assumption that LNG exports to China will displace coal generation capacity, noting it is more likely to be used to add capacity rather than act as a subsitute.

The two key graphs are published below. It shows the range and comparisons with key coal technologies. CSG exported as LNG compares best with sub-critical coal plants in China, but these are not being built any more and are being replaced by supercritical and ultrasupercritical coal. The Worley Parsons report notes that unless best practice procedures are used when extracting the gas from the ground, the life cycle emissions are no cleaner than coal.

The report said that “a worst case fugitive emissions scenario” for CSG-LNG, based on the latest data from the US which shows up to 4.38% fugitive emissions, and using latest estimates of the 20 year GWP, “shows that if best practice is not applied in Australia’s emerging CSG industry, life- cycle GHG footprint becomes similar to or in some cases worse than black coal.”

And it added: “When exported to China for electricity production, conventional LNG was found to be 22-36 times more GHG intensive than wind and concentrated solar thermal power and 13-21 times more GHG intensive than nuclear power.”

“The implications for regulators and the emerging Australian CSG industry are that best practice applied to design, construction and operation of projects can significantly reduce emissions, lower financial liabilities under the carbon tax, and help make CSG a less GHG-intensive fuel option.”

Beyond Zero Emissions said the report underscored the need for independent measurement and monitoring of fugitive emissions because underestimated the amount of “venting” of gases and it was likely that the 4.38 per cent reported from the US was at the bottom end of estimates. It pointed to reports from the US Department of Energy that showed fugitive emissions of up to 15 per cent.

Failing to properly account for these emissions would allow companies to potentially avoid hundreds of millions of dollars through carbon liabilities that would be need to be paid if emissions were properly measured.


  • Here is Beyond Zero Emissions’ media release in relation to the WorleyParsons report that was released yesterday

    Mediarelease: 28 March 12 Midday


    A new WorleyParsons report states that gas plants can have higher emissions than even the worst coal plants, but under-estimates the problem by relying on misleading assumptions.

    Understating the true level of coal seam gas (CSG) emissions will lead to massive gas fields being approved erroneously. It will also allow companies, including major clients of WorleyParsons, to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars through carbon liabilities that would need to be paid if emissions were properly accounted for.

    “Deliberately failing to measure and ignoring potentially massive carbon liabilities is tax evasion” said Matthew Wright Executive Director of climate and energy security think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

    This report illustrates the clear need for a comprehensive INDEPENDENT measurement and research of lifecycle emissions of gas. It is simply not adequate for government and investors to rely on research from companies with half a billion dollar contracts with oil and gas proponents, who would benefit enormously from underestimation of emissions.

    WorleyParsons has a $500 million contract to develop an LNG field for QGC.

    How does the report understate the true emissions of gas?

    Despite highlighting that Australian emissions are based on out-dated research, the report still uses this for the basis of its own calculations in the “Base case”. Therefore, the paper seriously understates the problem of gas fugitive emissions by making overly optimistic base case assumptions and significantly under estimating the potential worst case.

    WorleyParsons are calling the average measured emissions from actual gas fields the potential “worst case”, and assuming an imaginary (unproven and untested, without field data) best practice to be the “base case”.

    “The grossly optimistic base case is plucked straight from industry proponent Environmental Impact Statements. It assumes a fanciful leakage rate of 0.1% and zero venting of methane, when it is well known and documented that venting is routine”, says Matthew Wright, Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions.

    “The document goes on to assume 4.38% gas leakage as the “worst case”. This is 44 times worse than current industry claims, but it still a gross underestimation.”

    “The 4.38% is an average, not a worst case. It is from actual measurements of an unconventional gas field in Colorado. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study that the WorleyParsons paper refers to found leakage rates of up to 7.7%. If the report cites this report, it should use the report’s worst case as the worst case, not the average”, says Wright.

    “But a more credible “worst case” would be closer to 15% of total well yield based on actual measurements made by the US Department of Energy in the coal seam gas fields of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming” says Wright.

    “If the these levels of fugitive emissions are occurring in Australia, and prima facie it is reasonable to assume that this is likely, then projects would be far less likely to gain environmental approval, and existing operations would incur massive carbon liabilities of hundreds of millions of dollars annually, even with a low carbon price”.

    The report does however make some welcome and important findings

    The report acknowledges that the accounting of fugitive emissions in Australia still relies on “out of date” assumptions from the 1990s in the US American Petroleum Industry Compendium, some of which have since been revised upwards by factors of over 8000.

    It shows that exported coal seam gas can have worse emissions than inefficient brown coal power plants when compared over the crucial 20 year time-frame.

    The report also highlights that exported Australian gas will not actually replace any coal plants in Asia, but will displace renewable energy instead.

    And most disturbingly, it acknowledges the possibility of “migratory emissions” escaping via abandoned wells or other geological pathways, which would lead to even higher rates of fugitive emissions, but unfortunately fails to go into detail on this.

    “With the release of this report the idea of gas as “clean energy” is now dead and buried alongside “clean coal””, says Wright.

    “Beyond Zero Emissions welcomes the release of the WorleyParsons paper on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of LNG as a step in the right direction, despite some serious flaws, but continue to call for the release of the more comprehensive report that has been suppressed by the Worley board since its completion in August last year”.

    For more information contact Matthew Wright 0421 616 733 or Mark Ogge 0421 272 884

    WorleyParson’s report: Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Electricity Generation: A Comparative Analysis of Australian Energy Sources, Hardisty et al.

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