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Australia’s biggest fossil fuel investment for a decade is in the works – and its greenhouse gas emissions will be horrifying
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Australia’s biggest fossil fuel investment for a decade is in the works – and its greenhouse gas emissions will be horrifying

Car and caravan with words 'Shut down Scarborough gas' block road


New analysis shows that the controversial Scarborough gas project in Western Australia will lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions at an time when the world must decarbonize rapidly.

The A$16 billion plan by Woodside Petroleum has been described as Australia’s biggest new fossil fuel investment in nearly a decade. The reportClimate Analytics, a research organization I lead, has produced a report that examines the full climate impact of the entire expansion.

The Morrison government placed the gas industry at center of its economic recovery after the COVID-19 epidemic. However, as the Scarborough case shows, it is less likely that the Paris Agreement will be fulfilled.

The sheer volume of greenhouse gas emissions from expansion and related projects will make it difficult for Western Australia to achieve 2030 emissions targets. This applies also to Australia and other countries.

Car and caravan with words 'Shut down Scarborough gas' block road
The controversial Scarborough gas project has been described as the nation’s biggest fossil fuel investment in a decade.
Scarborough Gas Action Alliance

Emissions worse then we thought

Woodside’s expansion proposal involves developing the Scarborough offshore gas field 375 kilometres off Australia’s northwest coast. It also includes a new pipeline to the company’s onshore Pluto processing facility on the Pilbara coast, and expansion of that facility.

Woodside last week announcedIt had approved the final investment decision. Chief executive Meg O’Neill said the project “supports the decarbonisation goals of our customers in Asia”.

Our study examines the entire emissions implications of the expansion, as well as associated projects such as domestic gas supply and a proposal projectConverting gas to hydrogen

Estimates of the entire projects’ greenhouse gas implications are spread across several reports and documents. This report collects these data for the first-time. The Conservation Council of Western Australia requested the research.

Read more:
‘Unjustifiable’: new report shows how the nation’s gas expansion puts Australians in harm’s way

We evaluated the emission levels from the gas facilities and the likely emissions that would result from the project. This second group includes the locked-in domestic demand and overseas export markets burning their product for energy.

We estimate that the expansion and associated projects will produce 1.37 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses by 2055. Around 20% of the greenhouse gases are expected to be released in Western Australia, while the remainder would be emitted overseas, where it will be burned.

We calculate that the total emissions are far greater than the 878 millions tonnes Woodside claims the project will emit.

In a statement to The Conversation, a Woodside spokeswoman said its emissions figure was “correct and has been accepted by the federal regulator NOPSEMA”.

The NOPSEMA report only covers the emissions from the Scarborough gas field, and not the entire Pluto expansion. In contrast, Woodside’s greenhouse gas action plan is based on the entire Pluto expansion, including all aspects of the project we included in our calculations.

Woodside claimed that Scarborough gas, which is used to produce electricity, could power ten Perth-sized cities for 30 years, and the emissions would be about half those of the same electricity made from coal.

However, we found that introducing Scarborough -Pluto gas in electricity grids of countries that are decarbonizing in line with Paris Agreement would increase greenhouse gases emissions by several hundredmillion tonnes between 2026-2040.

silhouette of person sitting in front of city skyline
Woodside estimates that the project could provide power for ten cities the same size as Perth for the next 30 years.
David Goldman/AP

Plan to reduce emissions in question

Woodside says its “greenhouse gas abatement program” shows how the company will offset a substantial amount of emissions. We believe that this plan is feasible. approvedby the WA government, is questioned on several counts.

A Woodside project is one example. approved in 2006Later, at 12,000,000 tonnes of LNG per annum. scaled down. However, Woodside’s plan for emissions reduction plan comes off the earlier high-emissions baseline.

Woodside proposes to reduce emissions reductions using carbon offsets (removing CO₂ from the atmosphere in one place to compensate for emissions made elsewhere). But there appears to be no guarantee these offsets would not have occurred as part of Woodside’s usual business operations.

Woodside states that it intends to reduce all emissions from this project by 2050. However, most of the emissions reductions will not be realized until 2040. depends on factorsThese include the availability and policy of the government, technology availability, and the purchase of carbon offsets.

Woodside has not also accounted for expected global increasesIn the price of carbon offsets. We calculate that by 2050, the cost of offsets could comprise between 21% and 71% of Woodside’s export revenue for liquified natural gas.

Read more:
Big-business greenwash or a climate saviour? Carbon offsets raise tricky moral questions

gas flares from offshore rigs at sunset
Carbon offsets reduce emissions from one location and compensate for them.

Net-zero is in for some bad news

The International Energy Agency opened in May 2012. saidIf the world wants to reach net-zero emissions by 2020 and prevent catastrophic global warming, there are no new oil or gas fields that can be developed.

This includes, in our opinion, the Scarborough-Pluto extension. Global decarbonisation efforts would be slowed if gas from the project is introduced into electricity grids in importing countries.

Several large buyers of Australian gas include South KoreaAnd JapanThey are shifting away from fossil fuels in favor of green hydrogen and renewable energy. This suggests a softening, or even collapse, in demand for LNG this decade – a trend consistent with assessments by the International Energy Agency and Australia’s Reserve Bank.

Woodside is increasingly seeing the Scarborough-Pluto expansion as a stranded asset. And the WA government’s support for the project, and the broader gas industry, means it’s missing out on massive, and growing, opportunities in renewable energy and green hydrogen exports.

Continue reading:
International Energy Agency warns against new fossil fuel projects. Guess what Australia did next?


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