Australia’s gas-led recovery is bad for our health. That is the finding from a 2021 Climate Council report. Natural gas drives climate change, according to the report. Gas use in our homes also harms our children’s health. Plus, fracking – also known as hydraulic fracturing – for gas presents dangers to communities in Australia.
As a result, the Climate Council calls for the federal government to stop its support for natural gas. Instead, it says renewable energy sources are “the key to a prosperous, healthy future for all Australians”.
Shale and coal seam gas: The dangers of fracking
Fracking allows Australia’s natural gas industry to grow
Miners in the natural gas and oil industry use fracking. They sometimes employ the technique to extract hard-to-reach natural gas from underground. These are called unconventional sources of natural gas.
Coal seam gas vs. shale gas
Coal seam gas (CSG) is one example of an unconventional source of natural gas. Shale gas is another. Coal seam gas and shale gas generate the same amount of carbon dioxide when burnt. Coal seam gas is gathered from areas that are shallower and have a larger amount of gas than shale gas reservoirs. Shale gas always needs to be fracked. This makes coal seam gas cheaper to procure than shale gas. Shale gas and coal seam gas have a very similar chemical structure.
Why is there fracking in Australia?
Most Australian states only have unconventional sources of natural gas left. Therefore, fracking allows the fossil fuel industry to extract more gas in Australia.
Unfortunately, the natural gas industry is a climate threat. That is because natural gas production releases a lot of methane. Unconventional gas fracking itself has caused a rise in methane emissions globally. That was the finding of a 2019 study.
Methane heats the climate
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It is more potent than carbon dioxide. It traps 86 times more heat in the atmosphere over 20 years.
O’Malley, N. (2021). Push to turn off gas to help reach state’s climate goal. [online] The Age. Available at: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/push-to-turn-off-gas-to-help-reach-state-s-climate-goal-20210504-p57oof.html [Accessed 14 May 2021].Robertson, B. (2021). No amount of government subsidies can halt decline of gas. [online] RenewEconomy. Available at: https://reneweconomy.com.au/no-amount-of-government-subsidies-can-halt-decline-of-gas/.
The way the natural gas industry measures its methane emissions is outdated. As a result, Australia underestimates its greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, they could be about 10 per cent higher.
On a global scale, the fossil fuel industry has also underestimated methane emissions by as much as 40 per cent, according to a 2020 study. This climate impact is just one of the problems with oil and gas fracking in Australia.
Coal and shale gas fracking puts regional communities at risk
The Climate Council report highlights the health risks of unconventional natural gas developments. Fracking exposes Australian communities to unnecessary danger, the organisation says. That is because unconventional natural gas sources are mostly located onshore in Australia. This brings fracking close to regional towns. Also, these sites are often on agricultural land. Therefore, the gas industry uses mining infrastructure on farmland.
Consequently, this leads to noise and air pollution for rural communities. On top of this, farmers say hydraulic fracturing competes for their water resources. They also worry fracking chemicals can contaminate groundwater.
Household gas use is harmful to children
Household gas use causes asthma in children. In fact, natural gas could contribute up to 12 per cent of childhood asthma cases in Australia. Gas cooktops are the main offender, according to the Climate Council. But other gas appliances pose a risk too. Asthma Australia has backed up this research.
This startling finding shows the wide scope of fracking dangers in Australia. The practice allows the natural gas industry to extract unconventional sources. Therefore, this industry will continue to promote gas use in our homes.
What are examples of fracking dangers in Australia?
The Beetaloo Basin
Due to fracking, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets are in danger. For example, in late 2020, Origin Energy restarted fracking in the Beetaloo Basin. This is just one of the natural gas developments in the Northern Territory. Alone, it could increase Australia’s emissions by between seven and 22 per cent. Despite this, the Australian government supports such projects. In fact, it plans to invest more than AUD $200 million in the Beetaloo Basin.
Sonali, P. (2021). Australia’s natural gas-fired power output slumps to 16-year low. [online] Nasdaq. Available at: https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/australias-natural-gas-fired-power-output-slumps-to-16-year-low-2021-04-27 [Accessed 14 May 2021].
The Amadeus to Moomba Pipeline
The federal government may also help to fund the Amadeus to Moomba Gas Pipeline. Central Petroleum proposed the project. It would transport natural gas from central to eastern Australia. However, it would also be very expensive. Therefore, Central Petroleum would need to sell a lot of gas to make its money back. It would encourage even more fracking in the Northern Territory. This could even take place close to Alice Springs.
Robertson, B. (2021). No amount of government subsidies can halt decline of gas. [online] Available at: https://reneweconomy.com.au/no-amount-of-government-subsidies-can-halt-decline-of-gas/ [Accessed 14 May 2021].
How fracking affects Indigenous Australians
Additionally, the pipeline would run through environmentally delicate regions. These areas are also culturally important to Indigenous Australians. The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) is clear about the dangers this fracking project poses to Australia. The project will “increase our risk to climate change and threaten our groundwater”, the group says.
How to avoid the dangers of fracking in Australia
The Climate Council says that the federal government controls the expansion of Australia’s natural gas industry. Therefore, the organisation proposes the government moves beyond gas. This would reduce the dangers of fracking and natural gas generally in Australia.
The future of oil and gas for Australia
The government should do the following, states the Climate Council:
- Abandon new natural gas projects
- Drop public funding for oil and gas extraction
- Develop an economic recovery that does not depend on burning more oil and gas
- Remove any policies that encourage the use of oil and gas in homes and schools
Consequently, the government could shift its support to wind and solar energy. Such energy sources are clean and renewable.
Renewable energy: The answer to the dangers of fracking in Australia
Since 2010, the cost of renewable technologies has dropped sharply. At the same time, renewable energy storage battery prices have come down too. This now makes wind and solar energy the cheapest forms of electricity. By contrast, unconventional gas projects are costly. Fortunately, Australia has enough wind and sun to transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity.
Fossil fuel fans say renewable energy is not reliable. This includes the Australian government. However, the Australia Institute’s research explains how batteries are the answer to this. Renewable energy and batteries can secure Australia’s electricity grid just as well as coal and gas.
Parkinson, G. (2019). Blaming renewables for reliability issues is “wrong and dangerous.” [online] RenewEconomy. Available at: https://reneweconomy.com.au/blaming-renewables-for-reliability-issues-is-wrong-and-dangerous-43132/ [Accessed 14 May 2021].Bucci, N. (2021). Renewables plus batteries offer Australia the same energy security as coal, research finds. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/mar/29/renewables-plus-batteries-offer-australia-the-same-energy-security-as-coal-research-finds [Accessed 5 May 2021].
Gas-fired electricity in decline
Australia’s natural gas use has fallen 21 per cent since 2014. A decline in gas-powered electricity generation is the main driver. Instead, renewables now produce 28 per cent of the energy in Australia’s main electricity grid. This is simply because gas cannot create electricity as cheaply as renewable energies.
Arid Lands Environment Centre (2021). Amadeus to Moomba Gas Pipeline Proposal March Update. [online] Arid Lands Environment Centre. Available at: https://www.alec.org.au/amadeus_to_moomba_gas_pipeline_march_update [Accessed 14 May 2021].Denis, J. (2021). NT bets its future on an asset in freefall. [online] Alice Springs News. Available at: https://alicespringsnews.com.au/2021/03/25/nt-bets-its-future-on-an-asset-in-freefall [Accessed 5 May 2021].
Australia’s natural gas-fired electricity fell to a 16-year low in early 2021. This decline will continue. Natural gas-produced electricity could almost be gone by 2038. That is the view of Australia’s energy market operator. Therefore, we can avoid the dangers of fracking in Australia. The natural gas industry already has enough supply for 20 years. That is even without the need for more natural gas mining.
Lusted, P. (2017). Victorian fracking ban protects agriculture’s future, farmers say. [online] www.abc.net.au. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-08/victorias-fracking-ban-comes-into-effect-farmers/8333798 [Accessed 14 May 2021].Asthma Australia. (n.d.). Gas appliances in the home and production. [online] Available at: https://asthma.org.au/about-asthma/triggers/gas-appliances-in-the-home-and-production/) [Accessed 14 May 2021].Mazengarb, M. (2020). Origin resumes fracking in Beetaloo Basin as Coalition pushes gas-led recovery. [online] RenewEconomy. Available at: https://reneweconomy.com.au/origin-resumes-fracking-in-beetaloo-basin-as-coalition-pushes-gas-led-recovery-94564/ [Accessed 14 May 2021].
Household gas is also on the way out
In Victoria, there is momentum to ban natural gas connections to homes. This could help cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 50 per cent by 2030. This could also help cut household energy prices. It is already cheaper to cook with an induction cooktop than gas. Also, it is cheaper to heat your house and water with a heat pump system. The ACT government promotes switching from natural gas to electric heating and cooling. This can save a household up to AUD $500 a year on energy. Of course, there is another big positive. It will improve our children’s health.
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 14 May 2021].
Renewable energies vs. natural gas
The Climate Council’s report highlights the risks posed by the natural gas industry to the climate, regional economies and our health. Fracking in Australia enables these dangers. However, the organisation suggests that we can have a “prosperous, healthy future” in Australia. Rather than natural gas, this will be built on renewable energy.
Climate Reality. (2019). Is Natural Gas a Fossil Fuel? [online] Available at: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/natural-gas-fossil-fuel.