Two visions, one planet

Despite widespread opposition, Mark McGowan's WA Labor government has just given the green light to fracking. Photo: Frack Free WA/Facebook

As young people threw themselves into the Student Strike 4 Climate Action and made an impassioned plea to preserve life on Earth, one of Australia’s most polluting industries was working behind the scenes to have the federal government hide the truth of its carbon emissions.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) has been lobbying to have emissions from liquefied natural gas plants kept out of the public realm and treated as a commercial secret.

These two approaches symbolise counterposed visions for humanity.

The petroleum industry has spruiked gas as a “transition fuel” that can help us move away from coal. But while gas may only produce a third of the emissions of coal at the point where it is burnt, when the whole production cycle is taken into account it is just as bad.

Given that the true impact of gas is now better known, and in the face of advances in renewable energy, the gas industry is on a concerted push to obscure the truth.

The seriousness of this subterfuge lies in the significant contribution of gas extraction and processing to the rise in Australia’s emissions. It is estimated that by 2020 the rise in emissions from the booming gas sector will completely wipe out reductions made in the rest of the Australian economy combined.

While gas currently accounts for 5% of emissions, it is on track to represent 7% by 2020 and hit 17% if all the proposed new projects come online.

Gas, not coal, is Australia's biggest contribution to the threat of cataclysmic climate change.

None of this is new to anyone who has being paying attention — including the federal and Western Australian governments, which are supposed to be regulating the industry.

The Gorgon project, owned by Chevron, Exxon and Shell, has promised to reduce emissions by 40% through the process of capturing carbon emissions and storing it underground. But carbon capture and storage technology is not proven and two years after production has started at the Gorgon project, it has not happened.

Chevron’s Wheatstone project was originally required to purchase offsets for its annual carbon emissions of 1.2 million tonnes. This was scrapped by the Colin Barnett Coalition government and it is not clear whether the Mark McGowan Labor government will reinstate it.

The fact McGowan’s cabinet has just given the green light to horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) — one of the most polluting forms of gas extraction — demonstrates where its intentions lie.

Australia has just overtaken Qatar as the world's largest gas producer. Yet in 2018, the government will only collect a piddling $600 million a year from the industry, compared to Qatar where the industry is nationalised and returns $26.6 billion.

So we are destroying the planet and giving away resources to multinational corporations, and yet we are supposed to be grateful for the few jobs that the sector provides.

The simple fact is that Australian governments are regulated by the oil and gas companies, not the other way around.

Green Left Weekly supports the call to bring the Australian operations of oil and gas companies into public ownership. Not because we want to stay hooked on fossil fuel exports, but because this is the best method for using the revenues from these industries to pay for its own obsolescence.

Revenue from this industry should be used to fund renewable energy infrastructure, wean the world off fossil fuels and pay for extensive environmental repair.

This will require a monumental political shift — a political and social revolution that breaks the vice-like grip that the fossil fuel companies have over government.

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