The Australian government believes a “gas-led recovery” will strengthen the country’s economy.1 Unfortunately, this strategy is bad for the climate, and it is a poor investment. It also means fracking in Australia will increase.2

What is fracking?

“Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. Miners frack to extract natural gas, and sometimes oil, from deep underground. The fracking method is to inject a mix of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the ground. This creates cracks in the rock to release the gas or oil.3

Miners use fracking to extract “unconventional gas”. These gases can be hard to reach. For example, miners always need to frack for shale gas, which is deep underground. They also sometimes need to frack for coal seam gas.4

Community groups, such as Lock the Gate Alliance, have major concerns about the gas industry in Australia and have called for a ban or moratorium on fracking. This is because gas and the fracking fluid mix can leak into water supplies.5 There is evidence from US studies that fracking is dangerous to public health and the environment.6 7

There is also evidence that gas production, in general, is bad for the climate. The oil and gas industry does not accurately report upstream emissions from gas.8 These are methane emissions released when gas is produced and processed.9 Over 20 years, methane traps 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.10

The government does not measure upstream emissions correctly. Therefore, Australia could be underestimating its greenhouse gas emissions by about 10 per cent.11

Is there fracking in Australia?

The oil and gas industry uses fracking in different parts of Australia. However, the rules are different in each state and territory within the country. For example, Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) permit fracking for coal seam gas. But Victoria has banned fracking permanently.12 13

Where does fracking of coal seam gas take place in Australia?

Queensland allows fracking of coal seam gas, mostly in the Bowen and Surat basins.14 NSW placed some restriction on fracking due to opposition from farmers and communities, but still allows it in the north-west of the state and Camden in south-west Sydney.15

Like Victoria, Tasmania has a ban on fracking across the whole state – though only until 2025. Temporary bans like this are known as moratoriums. In other states, such as South Australia, there are moratoriums on fracking on farmland and near homes. In 2018, Western Australia and the Northern Territory removed their fracking bans in some areas.16

What is the Australian government’s view on hydraulic fracturing?

The federal government wants far more fracking. In 2017, Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said, “I would like all moratoriums and bans across Australia lifted, because more gas is good for jobs and it’s good for energy security and supply.”17

The idea that more gas means more jobs is wrong, according to the Australia Institute. “The gas extraction business employs less workers per dollar invested than almost any other industry in Australia”, says the think tank.18

Australia also doesn’t need any new gas to supply energy. It’s now cheaper to invest in renewable energy and storage technologies.19 Plus, Australia can reduce its reliance on gas with a focus on energy efficiency and electrification for households and businesses.20

What is the Australia government’s gas-led recovery plan?

The Australian government wants to invest in gas projects to replace coal plants. It claims that this will provide cheap energy to Australia’s manufacturing industry and boost jobs. Prime Minister Morrison said in 2020, Australia’s energy transition must involve the “greater use of gas”.21

This doesn’t add up. Fewer than 1 per cent of manufacturing jobs in Australia need gas.22 Australia also doesn’t need gas to transition away from coal. Renewable energy can be used now.23

Renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind and hydropower, are on the rise.24 The Australian government’s investment in gas, instead of renewables, will result in stranded assets. These are investments that do not generate a viable economic return.25

How can an oil and gas recovery lead to increased fracking?

The commission in charge of Australia’s economic recovery after COVID-19 recommended that the government eases fracking bans. Government support for fewer fracking restrictions and more unconventional gas mining means that fracking in Australia will likely increase.26

Even in Victoria, where fracking is banned, the state government has removed restrictions on gas exploration. This is sure to increase emissions.27 The proposed Narrabri coal seam gas project in northern NSW could release 500 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.28 Australian community groups continue to fight such projects – to keep the gas in the ground.29

Sources

  1. Scott Morrison’s “gas-led recovery”: what is it and will it really make energy cheaper?. (2020). The Guardian. [online] 17 Sep. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/17/scott-morrisons-gas-led-recovery-what-is-it-and-will-it-really-make-energy-cheaper [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
  2. Hepburn, S. (2020). 4 reasons why a gas-led economic recovery is a terrible, naïve idea. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/4-reasons-why-a-gas-led-economic-recovery-is-a-terrible-na-ve-idea-145009 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
  3. US EPA, O. (2013). Hydraulic Fracturing Research. [online] US EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/water-research/hydraulic-fracturing-research [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
  4. SBS News (2018). What is fracking and why is it dividing Australia? [online] SBS News. Available at: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/what-is-fracking-and-why-is-it-dividing-australia.
  5. Lock the Gate. (2015). Unconventional Gas: Coal Seam Gas Risks. [online] Available at: https://www.lockthegate.org.au/about_coal_seam_gas.
  6. US EPA, O. (2013). Questions and Answers about EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment. [online] US EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/hfstudy/questions-and-answers-about-epas-hydraulic-fracturing-drinking-water-assessment#main%20findings.
  7. Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2020). Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction). [online] Available at: https://www.psr.org/blog/resource/fracking-compendium/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
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  9. World Resources Institute. (2016). Upstream Emissions as a Percentage of Overall Lifecycle Emissions. [online] Available at: https://www.wri.org/resources/data-visualizations/upstream-emissions-percentage-overall-lifecycle-emissions [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
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  15. Cox, L. (2018). “Not safe, not wanted”: is the end of NT fracking ban a taste of things to come? [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/18/not-safe-not-wanted-is-the-end-of-nt-fracking-ban-a-taste-of-things-to-come.
  16. Luke, H., Brueckner, M. and Emmanouil, N. (2018). Fracking policies are wildly inconsistent across Australia, from gung-ho development to total bans. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/fracking-policies-are-wildly-inconsistent-across-australia-from-gung-ho-development-to-total-bans-108039.
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  20. Morton, A. (2020). Narrabri gas project: do we need it and what’s at stake for Australia’s environment? [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/30/narrabri-gas-project-do-we-need-it-and-whats-at-stake-for-australias-environment [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
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  22. the Guardian. (2020). Coalition’s gas plan would help fewer than 1% of manufacturing workers, report finds. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/21/coalitions-gas-plan-would-help-fewer-than-1-of-manufacturing-workers-report-finds [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].
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  29. Reuters Staff. (2020). Australia’s Santos Narrabri gas project approval faces court challenge. Reuters. [online] 23 Dec. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/santos-gas-narrabri/australias-santos-narrabri-gas-project-approval-faces-court-challenge-idUKL4N2J306T [Accessed 5 Mar. 2021].