OPINION

National Gas Infrastructure Plan a worry for regional Australia

Gas plan a big worry for regional Australia

At the recent Black Friday sales, city dwellers indulged in a lemming-like $5.4 billion shopping splurge, in response to the con jobs by the consumer industries imploring them to "eat, drink and be merry", boosting greenhouse gas emissions which are driving climate change and environmental collapse.

Those in country and regional Australia were more prudent.

Choosing exactly the right moment, our PM announced on Black Friday his own "eat and be merry" day with the release of a national gas infrastructure plan, a technological promised land with wads of dollars from gas exports and happiness for all deserving voters, and even an eventual trickle-down of some funds to the poor and homeless.

This massive expansion of the gas industry is ostensibly in response to the demand for more domestic gas.

Our gullible politicians in both major parties had already accepted this supposed necessity with the approval of the Narrabri gas field, which was opposed by leading climate and environmental scientists, health workers, Indigenous leaders and much of the local community.

The plan funds private gas projects in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory and in the North Bowen and Galilee Basins in Queensland, to be functional before 2030.

The plan ignores the science behind the climate disruption we are experiencing. To have any chance of limiting world temperature rises to 1.5 degrees by 2050, our emissions must be reduced by 75 per cent by 2030, or the accumulating emissions reduction becomes too difficult by 2050.

Consequently, the International Energy Agency has called for no new fossil fuel developments. Reducing our emissions of methane, a natural gas, is key to achieving a fast reduction in total emissions, for it will act over the next few decades, in contrast to the slow action of carbon dioxide over centuries.

Australia has already experienced warming of 1.4 degrees - much higher than the global average of 1.1 degrees, which has already seen the world plunged into chaos with floods, fires, storms, droughts, population migrations and many deaths.

At 1.5 degrees of warming, life will be difficult, and an increasing part of economic spending will be for reparation. Much of Australia may become unliveable with a rise of 2 degrees or more.

The certainty of climate science must call into question the mindsets driving the government.

Climate denial must be a significant factor in many of the irrational decisions, together with ignorance of science and technology leading to dependence on fossil fuel industries since the time of the Howard ministry.

Current gas developments raise concerns about the prodigious use of water in fracking, and contamination of water sources with toxic chemicals. Serious health effects are described by those living near American gas fields, but those effects have been inadequately assessed in Australia.

The plan will increase existing concerns for farmers and communities, particularly in regions with water scarcity.

Commercially viable carbon capture and storage (CCS) for coal-fired plants has been a failure.

The use of CCS alongside gas and oil extraction is problematic, and in the Gorgon Project in Western Australia it is a failure. It also increases the risks of contamination of water sources with water acidified by carbon dioxide during the storage process.

The use of gas to produce blue hydrogen requires CCS, whereas green hydrogen can be produced from sunlight, without further dabbling in technology and without potential health and environmental consequences.

The international consequences of our gas plan are considerable. Not only did Australia fail to join more than 90 countries pledging to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 as vital to controlling worsening climate change, but the plan is being seen as an "up yours" to the international community - "we will do what we like within our borders, regardless of others".

It also constitutes the same gesture to many Indigenous communities concerned for their land.

International economic retribution is likely, and agricultural exports may suffer.

Perhaps we need to begin to think of these disastrous plans in a totally different light. It is possible our messianic leader is moving us to an ordained armageddon, and meanwhile we can feast happily on the bonanza reaped from exported gas until the end time is upon us.

And perhaps the plan was handed down to the government on stone tablets - or more appropriately carved into anthracite.

  • David Shearman AM is an E/Professor of Medicine, University of Adelaide. He is co-founder of Doctors for the Environment Australia and co-author of The Implications for Human Health and Wellbeing of Expanding Gas Mining in Australia.
This story Gas plan a big worry for regional Australia first appeared on The Canberra Times.