Defend the gas drilling moratorium

AOC_cropped.jpgFrom 2011 until 2017, the Victorian community, especially regional communities in the south of the state, campaigned hard to win the ban on fracking and the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling.

While fracking (unconventional gas drilling) was banned permanently, a moratorium was placed on onshore conventional exploration and drilling. This has been in force since 2014, has been extended once, and will expire on June 30, 2020.

Before that date, the final report from the VIC Gas Program will be released, which is expected to highlight, in broad terms, where commercially viable gas resources might exist.

The Murdoch press and fossil fuel industry hate the moratorium and are campaigning to see it overturned. Without a major community mobilisation, we have to assume the government will bow to the industry fear campaign about energy prices and job loss, and let the moratorium lapse and open up exploration license opportunities for gas companies.

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.

The following comes from our background paper Busting Victoria’s Gas Myths (available here).

Busting the gas shortage myth: 

There is no gas shortage in Victoria. The problems with gas in Victoria are not primarily about supply, rather they are about 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. 

AFR_on_gas.PNGGas 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. The conservative media routinely run stories suggesting that lifting the moratorium will reduce gas prices in Victoria, without citing any details about the likely volumes of recoverable gas or details on price impacts. For instance, in August 2019, the Australian newspaper reported that ‘Victoria is 'holding back on opening major gas reserves'. However, despite questioning, they did not reveal the location or scale of these reserves. The Australian Financial Review (which is not owned by the Murdoch empire) has also joined the campaign, running headlines likeGas ban inflating Victoria power prices’.

Victoria will face gas supply pressures due to the output decline from the oil and gas fields in Bass Strait and the rising extraction costs of getting to this gas. We do accept that a gas shortfall is looming during the peak gas consumption season of winter in the next couple of years. But with gas supplies dwindling, globally and locally, focusing on finding more gas just locks us into higher prices. So Victoria has a short opportunity to act decisively to reduce our reliance on gas. But the clock is ticking!

AFR_on_gas2.PNGIf 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 negatively impacted and large volumes of CO2 and methane released, essentially 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. Sadly, it seems that Premier Andrews and the Victorian government are treating gas as a ‘transition’ or ‘bridging’ fuel. 

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 the physical impacts of 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. 

 

What’s the solution?

We just have to look north for some impressive developments.

The ACT government has unveiled the next phase of its strategy towards zero net emissions, saying it will look to phase out the use of gas,  electrify all new government-owned buildings, and support the further adoption of emissions-free transport options.

The ACT government has produced a climate change strategy, which is designed to take the ACT’s overall emissions reductions to between 50% to 60% by 2025, the key stepping stone of reaching its ultimate target of zero net emissions by 2045.

The ACT will soon reach its goal of 100% renewable electricity – a target which climate change minister Shane Rattenbury describes as “the easy part” and which will reduce overall emissions by 40%. That leaves transport accounting for 61%, and gas around 22%. But because there is not a lot the ACT can do about electric vehicles without a federal plan, it is going to focus on reducing the use of gas.

The ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-2025 includes a commitment for all new ACT government offices and public school buildings to be completely electric, ensuring that all of the energy used in these facilities can be sourced via the ACT’s 100% renewable electricity arrangements, and will eliminate the need for natural gas in the use of heating and cooking.

The ACT will also remove the mandatory requirement for new homes to be connected to the mains gas network and will begin to introduce new policies to replace gas appliances with electric alternatives.

Consumers in the ACT are already making the shift because of costs. 14% of customers have already dumped gas and gone completely electric.

In Victoria, the state government has stopped funding the Energy for the Regions program, which aimed to connect regional centres to reticulated gas supply. This is a good move.

In the home. The facebook group My Efficient Electric Home has great ideas and tips for transitioning away from gas use at home.

Environmental group Renew have produced a series of reports on the benefits of shifting from gas. One report shows that new homes that are all-electric and have solar power will save their owners thousands of dollars compared to new homes with dual fuel (gas and electric) and no solar. It notes that ‘heat pump hot water and split system air-conditioning systems are far more efficient than gas appliances and solar systems are cheaper than ever’.

Switching off Gas Report. The University of Melbourne Energy Institute (MEI) examined the future of domestic gas across the interconnected eastern-Australian gas market. The report notes that some householders can significantly reduce their energy bills by using efficient electrical appliances such as heat pumps (e.g. reverse cycle air conditioners) and induction cook tops instead of gas.

Commercial operations and manufacturing. The Beyond Zero Emissions’ report ‘Electrifying Industry’ (2018) shows how manufacturers can generate heat for industrial processes through the smart use of renewable electricity. By electrifying industry rather than relying on fossil fuels like gas, Australia can eliminate up to 8% of national emissions.

 

Defend the moratorium

Pat_ETM.jpgFrom 2011 until 2017, the Victorian community, especially regional communities in the south of the state, campaigned hard to win the ban on fracking and the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling.

While fracking (unconventional gas drilling) was banned permanently, a moratorium was placed on onshore conventional exploration and drilling. This has been in force since 2014, and will expire on June 30, 2020.

Before that date, the final report from the VIC Gas Program will be released, which will highlight, in broad terms, where commercially viable gas resources might exist

We fought long and hard for the moratorium. Having a ban and moratorium has given certainty to farming communities, who can feel safe from the negative threats of local gas production. It has also stopped new fossil fuels from being developed in a time where climate science makes it abundantly clear that the time for new coal, gas and oil is over.

Now is the time to defend this important legacy. Please show your support for the moratorium.

We are calling for a five year extension. You can support this call by:

  • Signing the petition to the premier (available here)
  • Organising, or joining, a simple local action that shows your support for extending the ban.

No_New_Fossil_Fuels_Graphic_square.pngThe action need only take a few minutes. Meet with your local group, community or a couple of friends sometime during the week of October 5 to 13. Make some signs/ placards around the basic message of ‘extend the onshore gas moratorium’ and post on social media. If you let us know you’re organising the event we will provide you with contacts and a media briefing before your action.

To find, or post about your local action, please check here. Even better, please rsvp and we will connect you with your local action. We will post details on local actions once they are announced. Full details also available on the FoEM website here.

Thanks. It is essential that we demonstrate community support for this moratorium on onshore gas drilling in Victoria.