Giving green light to big gas project flies in the face of zero emissions promise

Photo from Woodside

Contributed by Jim Hayes

In a move that has disappointed those who hoped the coming of the Albanese government would mean Australia had turned the corner and adopt serious action to tackle the climate crisis, the toxic Scarborough-Pluto gas field has been given the green light to go ahead go ahead. This flies in the face of the election promise.

Labor did not make this deal. It was handed over by the Morrison government to complete. Going along with it is a trap that is going to hurt Labor’s credibility.

Scarborough-Pluto is one of the most polluting developments in Australian history. It will release 1.4 billion megatons of greenhouse gases in its lifetimes. That this is three times Australia’s annual emissions, or that it will add between 15 to 17 percent to total emissions by 2030, gives an idea of what this amount means.

Support for the project came as Chris Bowen, the new Minister for climate and Energy, talked up his commitment to reducing emissions by 43 percent between new and 2030.

The announcement by the new Resources Minister Madeleine King contradicts Bowen’s commitment. There is no other way of putting it. It also throws up a question mark over what the relationship between the minister and government is with the Woodside Energy, the company behind the project. Even if there is nothing improper here, it spells out the danger of a consensus approach with too much compromise. Hard decisions must be made sometimes. This project should not be supported.

It seems the government’s acceptance is based on regulatory approval documents, including a 2020  Environmental Resources Management study, which gave support to the project. A report from an investigation by the CSIRO and released in 2019 came to a very different conclusion, showing that the quantity of emissions, as stated above, is much higher than the company claims. This has been ignored.

Woodside Energy is Australia’s biggest gas producer and there has been support from both the Coalition and Labor for the expansion of the LNG gas exporting industry.

Encouraged by the support for Scarborough-Pluto, Santos, the second biggest gas company, has announced it will expand its operations in the Cooper Basin. Others are likely to follow.

The resources minister told the media that there may be little else the government can do to reduce soaring gas prices and indicated that she has been working with industry chief executives on the matter. She claims that this is about releasing more gas into the Australian economy and into Australian households. She says that a $40 per gigajoule price cap has already been imposed.

Rising energy costs hurt households and industry, and they contribute to the rising cost of living. The Albanese government has made a commitment to take on the rising cost of living. But is the turn to gas the right answer? At best, it may provide a small short-term solution but at a far bigger cost in the longer-term.

A better approach would be to set a roof on exports and divert gas to the domestic market through a transition period towards alternative energy sources. This would mean the quantity of gas extracted will not go up and can be reduced over a timeline.

The government can meet both its promise to move towards zero emissions and its promise to do something about the rising cost of living.

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