Oil, gas and coal: climate vandalism in WA

Issue 

August was a terrible month of climate vandalism in Western Australia.

On August 10, the WA environment minister gave approval for the huge Gorgon gas plant on Barrow Island. Federal environment minister Peter Garrett gave the nod on behalf of the federal Labor government on August 26.

The announcement came days after a huge oil spill in the Timor Sea — a disaster that should have made any rational leader think twice before committing to new fossil fuel developments.

The Gorgon gas project will exploit an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of gas — Australia's largest known reserves. The development is a joint venture between the fossil-fuel giants Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil.

It will require a major development on Barrow Island. The island, an A-class nature reserve, is home to 24 endangered species and sub-species.

The development will produce about 8.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. This will raise WA's total yearly greenhouse emissions by more than 10%.

The corporations behind the $50 billion project have tried to paint the development as environmentally friendly with a promise to store about 40% of carbon dioxide emitted underground. The process is known as geo-sequestration.

It is true that natural gas results in less greenhouse pollution than burning coal or oil for energy. However, because of the climate change crisis, the priority for governments should be to invest heavily in renewable energy such as solar, wind and wave power.

Even if geo-sequestration proved successful, the Gorgon project would still represent a deliberate plan to emit more than 200 million tonnes of CO2over the next 40 years.

More importantly, geo-sequestration is a totally unproven technology. Even the companies involved admitted it was quite possible all of the CO2 produced will eventually be vented into the atmosphere.

In the September 1 West Australian, Paul Murray cast doubt on the ecological credentials of the geo-sequestration plan.

"The 28 new environmental conditions on the latest approvals released by environment minister Peter Garrett were stringent on the dangers facing the flatback turtle but virtually silent on those presented by injecting millions of tonnes of CO2 into the seabed below the island", he said.

"Under Mr Garrett's approvals, Gorgon's proponents will be able to start the project without proving the CO2 injection works at that site. In fact, they only have to agree to monitor whether it doesn't work."

Another announcement on August 26 compounded the bad news for the climate. State energy minister Peter Collier said the state-owned power generator Verve Energy and retailer Synergy would not be remerged.

This announcement is unsurprising, but it runs counter to the criticisms made by premier Colin Barnett of the previous Labor government's separation of the two enterprises.

Business groups have welcomed the decision. They realise it is one step closer to complete privatisation of energy in the state.

Public ownership of the power industry is needed for a fast, efficient and just transition towards a renewable energy future. However, Verve is run as a corporatised government enterprise in competition with private companies like Griffin Energy.

This profits-first setting explains the plans to build five new coal-fired power plants in Collie in the state's south west — one is due for completion by the end of the year and the other four will be operating by 2013.

In the face of such climate vandalism there is one bright hope for a shift away from burning fossil fuel for energy.

The growth of a huge people's movement is needed to push for renewable energy, the expansion of public transport and energy efficiency programs.

In WA the Safe Climate Coalition is planning an action on October 24 as part of the 350.org international day of action. A collective is getting off the ground to organise WA's first climate camp over December 17-20.

[For details visit www.safeclimate.org.au]