Busting Victoria’s Gas Myths

Victoria is feeling the impacts of the climate crisis now. In 2019 alone we have experienced dangerous heatwaves and bushfires across the state, crushing droughts, severe weather, and coastal erosion already eating away our beaches. The science is settled and there is no doubt left that we need to take urgent action in accordance with IPCC recommendations to keep warming within 1.5 degrees, or we face climate catastrophe. 

We currently have a state government that is saying and doing a lot of good things on climate on one hand, but on the other hand supporting the continued growth of fossil fuels and hoping we don’t notice the discrepancy. 

Premier Daniel Andrews Labor government has set Australia’s first ban on the destructive process of fracking for onshore unconventional gas, ambitious Renewable Energy Targets (the VRET), and has strengthened the state’s Climate Change Act 2017. 

These are excellent components of climate action, however they are being undermined by the government’s support for new fossil fuel projects. 

Under Premier Andrews government gas exploration and development is still underway.

Currently there are plans to drill off the coast of Western Victoria near the Otways to explore for more gas and expand the offshore gas industry there, as well as open up new gasfields in East Gippsland off Ninety Mile Beach. A moratorium on onshore gas drilling is in place until June 30, 2020 but onshore to offshore drilling is allowed.

Premier Andrews and the Victorian government are treating gas as a ‘transition’ or ‘bridging’ fuel, a myth being pushed by the fossil fuel industry despite the clear science that continued fossil fuel development locks in warming and spells catastrophe. 

 

GAS IN VICTORIA - FAQ

The narrative from the fossil fuel industry, conservative politicians and the Murdoch press is that states like Victoria must allow drilling in order to bring down gas prices. Industry thinks that the ban on fracking and the moratorium on conventional gas pose a dangerous precedent, and emboldens other states and territories to follow the lead of Victoria.  In order to pressure Victoria to lift these bans, they have launched a sustained fear campaign. Here is our response to some of the arguments put forward by the gas industry and their allies.

 

Busting the gas shortage myth: 

There is no gas shortage in Victoria. The problems with gas in Victoria have nothing to do with supply, but everything to do political failings and gas companies gaming the market.

Victoria has no domestic reservation policy for gas. In 2015 when the east coast gas market was connected to the international market for the first time, domestic consumers had to compete with international consumers. It was this that made prices jump from $3 a gigajoule to $20, not a looming shortage. 

Gas production from Victoria has increased since 2014, but gas consumption has decreased. We are producing more than we are using, but gas companies and politicians are manufacturing anxiety around gas shortages to justify opening up yet more gas. 

If we open up more gas the same problem will persist, with companies selling it interstate for profit and forcing Victorian consumers to compete at interstate or overseas prices. 

Victorian farmland and environments will be destroyed and massive amounts of CO2 and methane released, all for the profit of the gas companies.

 

The climate science: 

The fossil fuel industry pushes gas as a lower-emission alternative to coal, however climate science is abundantly clear that the time for new fossil fuel developments is over. If we are to avoid the risk of ‘catastrophic’ climate change, we need to decrease our fossil fuel use now. 

In May of this year. greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere were at 415 parts per million. Before the Industrial Revolution, greenhouse gas concentrations sat between 180 and 280 parts per million (with the difference depending on whether the earth was going through an ice age or an interglacial warm period). A generally agreed upon figure amongst scientists for safe greenhouse gas concentrations is 350 parts per million. However, we have already blown way past this figure and concentrations are still rising. This is already leading to negative impacts on natural systems and human communities.

 

Emissions from gas:

A modern gas plant emits roughly 50% of the CO2 emissions of a new coal plant of the same size. However, as stated above, we are already well past our carbon budget for a safe planet, and the avoidable emissions from burning gas are pushing us further towards climate catastrophe. The carbon budget can be defined as the  tolerable quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted in total over a specified time. The budget needs to be in line with what is scientifically required to keep global warming and thus climate change “tolerable.”

Additionally, CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas emissions caused by gas. Drilling, extracting and transporting gas all results in the leakage of methane (often called ‘fugitive’ emissions), which is an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas that has 34 times the impact of CO2 over a 100 year period.

Methane emissions from the gas industry are identified as a major hurdle in global efforts to combat the climate crisis by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

 

We don’t need gas as a ‘transition fuel’:

There is a pervasive belief that we need gas as a ‘transition fuel’ as Victoria moves away from coal power stations to renewable energy to meet our electricity needs. This is not true. 

Victoria has the target of net zero emissions by 2050 and is fully capable of reaching this target without creating more emissions by relying on gas in the interim. Victoria has sufficient solar, wind, and geothermal resources to supply its own energy, as well as enough projects in the pipeline to ensure the transition of the electricity system. 

Further gas developments are not necessary to maintain the integrity of Victoria’s energy grid, and would serve only to lock in further emissions. This would be at odds with the government’s own commitments under the Climate Change Act.

 

Batteries provide dispatchable power:

The role of battery storage is going to increase in Victoria’s electricity system. Large scale battery projects that store energy produced by renewable sources will be able to provide dispatchable power when the grid needs it. This negates any need for backup gas power stations in the future energy grid.

Researcher Jonathan Prendergast says that one gigawatt of battery storage could mean Victoria ‘no longer needs the 45-year-old Yallourn brown coal power station’. 

 

Cheaper, cleaner and safer energy alternatives to gas exist in Victoria: 

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan Victoria is already on track to go 50% renewables by 2029. This includes large scale solar and wind, distributed solar on rooftops, large and small scale battery systems, and more. 

This range of different energy sources drives down prices and builds resilience into the energy grid that is not provided by the old single-sourced energy production system of coal and gas powered stations. It also doesn’t have the same health and environmental impacts of polluting gas production and use. 

A modern grid using renewables and storage present opportunities for communities in the form of local businesses and job creation that are good for people and for the planet.  

We understand that many businesses and especially manufacturers are struggling to secure gas supplies that are commercially viable for their operations. At present, some manufacturing processes require the use of gas and cannot be easily converted to electricity. However, the price problem largely rests on problems with the market and competition with the LNG export industry, and opening up gas drilling in Victoria will not change the nature of the market. A smarter option would be for the government to pursue options for ‘energy shifting’ - whereby domestic consumers are encouraged to use electricity rather than gas. This will free up available locally produced gas and hence push prices down as demand drops. Combined with government action to limit price gouging or the implementation of local gas reserves, this will help reduce prices for industries requiring large volumes of gas.



Take action

We have the opportunity to stop the further development of gas drilling in Victoria. But only if we act now. Once approvals are given and drilling starts, it will be much much harder to stop this destructive industry.

Offshore gas: 

To find out more about what’s proposed for offshore oil and gas, please check here.
To sign a petition calling on the premier to cancel the tenders for offshore drilling, please check here.
If your organisation or business would like to sign on to the open letter opposing offshore drilling, please check here.

Onshore gas:

The moratorium is likely to be lifted on June 30, 2020.
Local groups are already organising in defense of the moratorium.
To get involved, contact Cam Walker: cam.walker@foe.org.au
For background reading on the long campaign that secured the original moratorium, please check here.