Scott Morrison’s loving embrace and financial backing of the gas industry has been a defining feature of his prime ministership.
Hit with a historical pandemic, Morrison chose gas – not renewables – to fire an economic recovery.
Gas will be used to create plans for a new hydrogen export business. The government has – anachronistically in the face of the climate crisis – given fossil fuel a central role in reaching net zero which it claims to have a plan for, but in reality doesn’t.
Unlike coal, gas doesn’t lend itself to being Submitted to parliament. However, you have to wonder if Morrison could have done it.
“We’ve got to get the gas,” he said in January 2019. Angus Taylor (his energy minister) claimed that gas exports will reduce regional emissions.
All of this Multiple scientific studies contradict the assertions of flies.The International Energy Agency, and others who all agree that there cannot be any new gas developments if (and only that). “if” should really be in bold and CAPS) the worst of the climate crisis is to be avoided.
But Morrison, Taylor and the gas industry consistently reach for a “get-out-of-catastrophe free” card in this game of Monopoly (climate crisis edition).
That card is carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) – an expensive, complex and serially underperforming approach to grab CO2 where it’s being released and then lock it away, usually in geological formations underground.
This week the chair of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea), Ian Davies, told his annual conference the industry “must meet” the challenge of decarbonisation, saying “the technology that’s critical for us to achieve this at scale is carbon capture, utilisation and storage – a proven technology”.
Davies stated that it was an Exxon first use of the approach in the 1970s. However, after billions in global investment, it is now a common practice. This column has been writtenHow CCUS projects can only capture 0.3% of the annual emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Australia only has one commercial carbon capture and storage facility operating – the Chevron-led Gorgon project at Barrow Island off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast.
Gorgon is the world’s biggest carbon capture project that is dedicated to storing the CO2, which is different from the handful of larger projects where the CO2 is used to push more oil out of the ground.
Davies revealed that Gorgon has 6m tonnes CO2 since its inception in mid-2018.
“It’s working,” he said.
This statement is not without qualification. Gorgon has failed to meet government-set CO2 capture targets. Also, as a percentage the project will eventually release, it can only marginally lower the amount of CO2 that will be in the atmosphere.
Chevron Australia’s director of operations, Kory Judd, was a little less emphatic earlier this week, Tell Reuters: “We’ve still got a ways to go to meet the commitment to what we have the injection system designed for. What we’re doing is trying to learn our way through how you inject CO2 into the reservoirs, how do they respond, then how do you do that reliably and how do you do that and get to the point to meeting the commitments that you’ve got.”
At Gorgon, the CO2 that comes up with the gas when it’s drilled in offshore fields is extracted and injected underneath Barrow Island.
But there have been. Numerous technical issues can lead to expensive problems. In the last financial year, Gorgon injected 2.17m tonnes of CO2 – about 1m tonnes short of its target.
After the CO2 is extracted, what’s left is mostly methane to be compressed to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and transported overseas where it is burned, releasing far more CO2 than is captured.
What more? According to the Australia Institute, if Gorgon were producing and injecting gas at full capacity, then over a five-year span, approximately 260m tons of CO2 would be released and only 20m tonnes would be captured.
No matter what the claims, carbon capture and storage is not working at anywhere close to a scale that would significantly lower emissions – despite the billions in taxpayers’ cash thrown at it over the years.
Does gas really reduce emissions?
During his speech, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea) chair, Ian Davies, repeated a claim that Australia’s LNG had the potential to lower emissions “in importing countries by around 166m tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by replacing higher-emission fuels”.
Appea told this column the 166 Mt figure is from the government’s long-term emissions reduction plan report. But that report does not say how the figure is calculated – just that it came from unpublished analysis by the department of industry.
Temperature Check has asked the department how the figure was reached, but was told it couldn’t respond because the government was in caretaker mode.
But when? Taylor made a similar claim during 2019, the department said it was based on the assumption that all of the LNG exported by Australia was burned for power (but didn’t say what kind of gas plant it was burned in, as some are more efficient than others). They then compared this to the same amount if it were generated from burning coal.
For this figure to be credible, all of the LNG exported would need to be burned and this would need to be displacing the use of coal, rather than just satisfying Asia’s rising demand for energy.
“The figure is simply wrong. The idea that LNG would replace coal is false. It’s not occurring,” said gas industry finance analyst Bruce Robertson of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a thinktank tracking the transformation of the world’s energy systems.
Robertson said some LNG in Australia’s major markets of China and Japan is used for heating, not power generation. He said that LNG is being replaced by renewables and that most of the new LNG power plants in Asia are designed to fill short-term supply gaps and are less efficient then those that have provided baseload power.
Robertson also said that even if 2% of methane gas leaks through pipes in the supply chain, the climate impact of this potent greenhouse gas renders LNG as bad or worse than coal.
Comparing apples and watermelons
In what the Morrison government described as the dawn of a new energy export industry earlier this year, Morrison and Taylor were effusive over a world-first shipment of so called “clean hydrogen”.
At the time, government media releases said if the pilot Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project went commercial it would turn Latrobe Valley coal into hydrogen and “save” 1.8m tonnes of CO2 a year (which, by the way, is an unimpressive one-ninth of the emissions of the coal=fired power station that’s next door to the project).
This column was The government and HESC were contacted.We have no idea how that 1.8 Mt was calculated. Now we know. Firstly, the government relied upon information provided by HESC.
In Freedom of Information Documents, HESC said it simply compared two different methods of making hydrogen – one that uses gas in a process called steam methane reforming, and its own approach that gasifies coal.
Actually, that’s not quite it.
HESC has compared steam methane to HESC. WithoutCarbon capture (even though there are at least two plants, one in) Texas One in and one in AlbertaUse steam methane with carbon capturing) or its own process With carbon capture.
It is not fair.
Rinse and Repeat
On Sunday, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, repeated a claim that Australia’s record on emissions was much better than Canada and New Zealand, and better than the average of OECD countries.
This is a claim This column has been explored before. Putting aside falls in emissions from a slowing of land clearing in the last three decades – which the federal government has had nothing to do with – Australia’s emissions are not better than the OECD average.
A detailed ABC Fact Check: Frydenberg’s most recent claims around Australia’s comparative record – one repeated on social media posts by the Liberal party – also found it “misleading”.