New expert report dismisses unsubstantiated NT Govt gas spin, raises alarm over fracking’s impact on climate

Published: October 17, 2019

A new independent expert analysis has used CSIRO findings to discredit company and government spin that promotes the expansion of the fracking industry in the Northern Territory.

The report, written by Emeritus science professor Ian Lowe, of Griffith University, also reveals the devastating climate impacts of a fully exploited NT gas industry.

Alarmingly, Professor Lowe concludes that fracking the NT’s reserves could contribute about 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year if industry projections play out. Australia’s total domestic emissions for the most recent year – the highest ever recorded – were 560 million tonnes.

His estimates are based on Australian Government data and comparisons to the similarly sized Marcellus shale in the USA, which produces about 11 trillion cubic feet of gas each year.

“Approving development of these resources would have a catastrophic impact on Australia’s efforts to slow climate change, and are totally incompatible with our obligations under the Paris agreement,” Professor Lowe said.

“Five years ago, the Australian Academy of Science said that in order to have a 50 per cent chance of keeping the increase in average global temperature below two degrees, the less ambitious Paris target, global emissions need to peak by 2020 and then go steeply down.

“Given these pollution figures, it would be criminal to allow the gas fracking industry to expand across the Northern Territory.” 

Professor Lowe’s report also stamps out claims by Origin Energy, and argues there is no foundation to the myth that fracked gas can be used to reduce the world’s reliance on coal and thereby decrease carbon emissions.  

The report says emissions from methane make it impossible for the fracking industry to deliver a fuel that is less damaging to the climate.

Professor Lowe said, “a paper based on measurements from an actual US shale gas field over a year which found leakage rates varying between 2.3 and 7.7 per cent, (concluded) that the best estimate for current practice is 4 per cent.”

He said, based on a methane emission rate of around 4 per cent, “It is totally invalid to claim that gas production reduces the overall greenhouse gas impact of electricity generation, even when it directly replaces coal-fired generation.”  

“Of course, there is also no evidence that Australian production of gas replaces burning of coal; in many cases, it produces extra energy. Schanell et al conceded that it is impossible to calculate whether LNG exports reduce greenhouse gas emissions “because we do not know the proportion of gas used to displace what would have been produced from coal”.  So it is just dishonest to claim that producing more gas from Australian deposits will slow climate change.”  

Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said Professor Lowe’s report showed the gas industry’s spin for what it was.

“Methane leakage rates are poorly understood, with the true figure likely much higher,” Mr Sawyer said.

“If the NT fracking industry is allowed to develop, it will mean bad news for the NT, Australia, and the world. Methane is up to 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide, and numerous reports have pointed to the spreading fracking industry as a big driver of dangerous global warming.

"In addition to its damaging impact on land, water, and communities, the fracking industry has a big problem with leaking, venting and flaring methane emissions.”

The release of Professor Lowe’s report coincides with Origin Energy’s annual general meeting this week.

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