The opening of 10 new oil and gas sites is a victory for fossil fuel companies, but a staggering loss for the rest of Australia.

Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King handed Australia’s fossil fuel industry two significant wins yesterday.

The minister announced that oil and gas exploration will be allowed at ten new Australian ocean sites, comprising almost 47,000 square kilometres. And he approved two new offshore greenhouse gas storage areas off Western Australia and the Northern Territory, to explore the potential of “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technology.

The minister said the new oil and gas permits will bolster energy security in Australia and beyond and ultimately help the transition to renewable energy. King also said controversial carbon capture and storage was necessary to meet Australia’s net-zero emissions targets.

The global energy market is going through a period of disruption, largely due to Russian sanctions and the war in Ukraine. But expanding carbon-intensive fossil fuel projects is flawed reasoning that will lead to greater global insecurity.

Research shows that 90% of coal and 60% of oil and gas reserves must remain underground if we are to have half a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ this century.

cupcake king
Resources Minister Madeleine King.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

ignoring the facts

The new offshore oil and gas exploration sites comprise ten areas off the coasts of NT, WA, Victoria, and Ashmore and Cartier Islands. King’s announcement came at a resource conference in Darwin, where he said:

Gas enables greater use of renewable energy at the national level by providing energy security. Australian [liquefied natural gas] it is also a force for regional energy security and helps our trading partners achieve their own decarbonization goals.

The problem with this evaluation is that it ignores two things.

First, Australia exports nearly 90% of domestically produced gas and lacks strong export controls to moderate this. Without these controls, increasing domestic production will not improve Australia’s energy security.

Second, gas can only enable greater use of renewables domestically and provide energy security when it is “decarbonized” through the use of carbon capture and storage. If not decarbonized, gas use undermines energy security by risking further global warming.

However, the deployment of CCS technology is complex, expensive and faces many barriers. To date, it has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.

Carbon capture and storage typically involves capturing carbon dioxide at the source (such as a coal-fired power plant), sending it to a remote location, and storing it underground.

Offshore CCS involves injecting and storing CO₂ in suitable rock formations. Doing it safely requires robust monitoring and verification, but challenging ocean conditions can make this extremely difficult.

For example, Chevron reportedly failed to capture and store CO₂ at its massive offshore Gorgon gas project, after the WA government approved the project on the condition that the company sequester 80% of the project’s emissions in its facilities. first five years.

Read more: 1 in 5 fossil fuel projects exceeds their original emissions estimates. Why are there such important errors?

A February report suggested the project emitted 16m tonnes more than anticipated due to an injection failure. King calls CCS a “proven” technology, but Chevron’s experience indicates this is far from the case.

King said the federal government will not rely entirely on CCS, adding that “it is one of many means to get to net zero” and that renewable energy remains central to Australia’s emissions reduction efforts.

But critics have labeled the technology a “smokescreen” behind which fossil fuel companies can continue to pollute.

An oil drilling rig off California in 2018.

Fossil fuels are not the future

Putting gas in competition with renewable energy will end badly for the fossil fuel industry. As the market share of renewable energy expands, fossil fuels will become uneconomic due to their environmental impacts and higher costs.

Eventually, natural gas will be used only during periods of peak demand or when wind and solar don’t produce electricity; in other words, when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. It will not provide the stable and constant supply of electricity that makes up our baseload power system. This reality will significantly reduce gas demand and negate the need for carbon capture and storage.

Read more: Why did gas prices rise from $10 a gigajoule to $800 a gigajoule? An expert on the energy crisis plaguing Australia

Opening up new oil and gas exploration is a reactive and dangerous move that does not support Australia’s long-term energy future. Many of our international peers already recognize this.

The UK, for example, now generates 33% of its electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and onshore and offshore biomass. The subsequent decline in fossil fuels means that the UK has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% from 1990 levels.

Gas in the UK is valuable for its ability to provide fast and flexible power supply during peak periods, to integrate with other renewable technologies and to improve system flexibility. During periods of high demand, storage devices can be offloaded onto the network and maintain security of supply.

Wind turbines on a hill at sunset
Putting gas in competition with renewable energy will end badly for the fossil fuel industry.
unsplashCC BY

Wrong way, come back

Clearly, Australia is headed in the wrong direction by opening up new exploration for fossil fuels.

The move will damage our long-term security and undermine our climate imperatives. It ignores the glaring economic realities that will eventually drive gas off the market.

And opening up new gas fields while carbon sequestration remains uncertain is dangerous for the planet.

Read more: Liquid Marbles: How This Tiny Emerging Technology Could Solve Carbon Capture and Storage Problems

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