Asking the peak oil and gas industry body to prepare a report on Australia's future energy needs for federal and state energy ministers was always going to have a predictable outcome.
The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) was tasked to report to the Council of Australian Government (COAG) energy ministers meeting on August 18 and 19. Unsurprisingly, it recommended urgently producing and supplying more gas — and fast — before Australia runs out.
The meeting accepted the discredited line that gas is a “transition fuel”, and that the more gas supplied, the lower the price for the consumer.
Over the last 5 years the Stop CSG movement, spearheaded by farmers and regional communities, has forced concessions from pro-gas governments including imposing some (although not enough) regulations on the industry, moratoriums on new licences, and cancellations and buy-backs of old licences (including one which covered the whole Sydney Basin), along with raising community consciousness about the polluting dangers associated with fracking.
This has clearly infuriated APPEA. For chairperson Bruce Lake, “gas has never been so important” but “it has also never been so aggressively challenged”.
Lake, who is also managing director of Vermilion Oil, laid out the industry argument APPEA took to the COAG meeting.
“There is a pressing need to stimulate exploration and development to supply Australia and the world,” he said, adding that those who argue that gas is unnecessary and dangerous are “wrong”. Gas, he said, “must be part of the transition to a low-emissions future”.
Meanwhile, APPEA CEO Malcolm Roberts told energy ministers that there will be dire economic and social costs unless the east coast gas market is “opened up”.
“Governments have been warned ... that we risk a supply shortfall by 2019 if new gas reserves are not developed urgently. And the states that are the most vulnerable are the ones that have not developed their own resources,” he said.
He said Victoria, which has a limited moratorium on onshore gas projects, must lift it immediately, as “there is no environmental justification to prohibit onshore gas exploration and development”.
These assertions are highly contested by farmers, rural communities, doctors, climate scientists and researchers.
Solar Citizens and Doctors for the Environment were quick to condemn the COAG meeting's outcomes.
Solar Citizens spokesperson Claire O'Rourke said the meeting was “a wasted opportunity when what's needed is a fundamental rewrite of our energy laws … to facilitate the orderly transition to 100% renewable power”.
She said that while recognising the role of battery storage was important, it was “overshadowed by the gas industry's campaigning efforts”.
Doctors for the Environment spokesperson Graeme McLeay said on August 23 that the big winners from the COAG energy summit were “gas interests rather than ordinary Australians many of whom don't know the misinformation and lies that are being presented as 'evidence'.”
McLeay criticised the federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg as “reckless” for repeating the lie that gas will help with a transition to renewables and that it is a cleaner form of fossil fuel.
“The Minister has clearly ignored the question of 'fugitive emissions' or releases of gas, mostly methane, during the mining, processing and delivery phases,” McLeay said.
“America's Environmental Defence Fund estimates that a significant amount of man-made global warming is caused by methane emissions, much of which is fugitive emissions.
“The Minister also seems to have ignored the environmental damage to air quality and water tables and the health costs of gas mining on local communities.”
Doctors for the Environment has undertaken research on these questions and states that the risks of unconventional gas mining are “so potentially serious, so difficult to manage and so likely to be long-lived, that any further development of the unconventional gas industry in Australia has to be seen as unwise and unhealthy”.
There is also the question of the gas glut. Even industry insiders, such as Woodside, admit the prospect of producing more gas is less appealing due to oversupply in the gas market.
McLeay, along with many others, refutes the lie that gas is some sort of transition towards developing sustainable energy systems.
“We already have the technology to move to a rapid transition to renewables without the unnecessary and harmful step of opening new gasfields to an industry that will be soon outmoded.
“What we need is the political will that puts people's wellbeing above corporate greed,” he concluded.