Labor’s $1.5b plan to ‘unlock’ gas would create more emissions than Adani coal mine, experts say
Labor’s $1.5 billion plan to “unlock” Northern Territory and Queensland gas would create far more emissions in Australia than Adani’s coal mine, making it much tougher for a Shorten government to meet the nation’s Paris climate goals.
The proposal to help fund gas pipelines linking northern gasfields would allow pilot projects to be expanded, adding the equivalent of millions of tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions a year.
Labor has pledged to beat Australia’s current 2030 Paris targets by cutting emissions 45 per cent compared with 2005 levels. The pipeline plan would undermine that goal, according to analysts.
The NT’s proposed Beetaloo gas fields alone have the potential to create 1240 petajoules of gas a year, according to the territory government’s Fracking Inquiry report.
Assuming the fields leak methane at 1.7 per cent of production – a baseline used by the International Energy Agency – the NT could add at least 30 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year, said Bill Hare, director of global research group Climate Analytics.
By contrast, Adani’s scaled-down Carmichael mine would add a relatively modest 240,000 tonnes of direct CO2-equivalent emissions, excluding the pollution from the coal’s combustion.
Mr Hare said Labor’s climate goals imply cutting annual emissions by 200 million tonnes from current levels by 2030, and so the NT fields would “add 15 per cent at least” to that abatement effort.
“It will make it much more difficult to meet the Paris Agreement targets,” he said.
Tim Forcey, a former BHP engineer and Melbourne University energy researcher, said the leakage rates from gas fields in the United States are often much higher than the 1.7 per cent estimate, and so the emissions impact may be higher still from the new fields that would follow Labor’s proposed pipeline plan.
The latest government data show Australia’s emissions were up 0.9 per cent to 536 million tonnes in the 12 months to September last year. So-called “fugitive emissions” mostly from the gas industry jumped 7.3 per cent, the biggest increase in any sector.
Mr Forcey said “the time is not far away” when the gas sector contributed more greenhouse gases in Australia than the coal industry. “There’s nothing stopping the rampant development of the oil and gas industry.”
The Greens have signalled they would press Labor on the issue if they held the balance of power in the Senate.
“When your house is on fire, you don’t break open the gas main next door,” Greens climate spokesman Adam Bandt said.
“Even if most of the gas is exported, fracking leaks so much toxic methane into the atmosphere that this project will be a giant taxpayer-funded carbon bomb.”
Labor climate spokesman Mark Butler said large emitters would be covered under an expanded so-called “safeguards mechanism” already in place if his party wins government.
“The safeguards mechanism will be properly implemented to cap and bring down pollution, and Labor will work with emissions intensive trade-exposed industries to cut pollution while protecting competitiveness and jobs, including through our $300 million Strategic Industries Reserve Fund,” he said. Both the 2030 goal and a 2050 net-zero emissions target for Australia could be met, he added.
The Liberals have no policy to tackle climate change,” Mr Butler said. “Their own government data shows under the Liberals inadequate policy, emissions will continue to rise all the way to 2030.”
Resources Minister Matt Canavan, said “Labor doesn’t support coal mining jobs in the Galilee Basin so it’s hard to believe they would support gas jobs or infrastructure in the same area”.
“The Labor Party has turned its back on Australia’s resources and mining industry, regardless of whether it’s for energy use here or for exports,” he said.
Major gas companies Santos and Woodside said they are offsetting emissions by selling liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asian consumers who would have otherwise used dirtier coal.
“For every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted during LNG production in Australia it saves between 3 and 10 tonnes of emissions when it is used for power generation in Asia,” Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher said at his company’s annual general meeting earlier this month.
The NT’s Labor government said the fracking inquiry made more than 100 recommendations to limit impacts from increased gas development.
“We are undertaking significant reforms based on the scenarios outlined in Justice Pepper’s final report, which predict that greenhouse gas emissions could increase by from between 1 million to 25 million tonnes per annum,” NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby said on Monday.
“The NT government and the federal government have commenced discussions around options to minimise the net impact on Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions as a result of onshore gas production.”