July 18, 2020

Opinion editorial by APPEA Chief Executive in response to Bob Carr

Read the full version of a Letter to the Editor from Andrew McConville published in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 18, 2020:

Bob Carr’s recent article Gas isn’t the Clean Fuel we thought it was argues methane emissions from natural gas could outweigh the benefits of natural gas delivering a lower emissions future. In doing so he cites a study from Nature journal in February this year by University of Rochester academic Benjamin Hmiel.

Citing the article in unqualified support ignores the caution that even one of the study’s authors told the New York Times. As that paper observed in February:

Dr. Petrenko, one of the Rochester study’s authors, said that the huge undertaking of studying giant ice cores meant the study relied on a small sampling of data. “These measurements are incredibly difficult. So getting more data to help confirm our results would be very valuable,” he said. “That means there’s quite a bit more research to be done.”[1]

The oil and gas industry takes its environmental obligations seriously. Research into fossil fuel emissions is ongoing and it does not support the University of Rochester’s findings. Leading atmospheric chemistry academics responded publicly to the release of Nature’s publication.

Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry and chemical engineering, Daniel Jacob told the Washington Post that the study’s claim that fossil fuel methane emissions are higher than previously estimated was wrong, saying:

I totally disagree with this inference. If natural sources of fossil methane are smaller, he argued, that simply means total emissions are smaller — not that we should bump up emissions from another source in their place.[2]

Others in the North American scientific community, like National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research scientist Lori Bruhwiler have pointed to natural biogenic sources behind the increase, a point supported by the Global Carbon Project that has pointed to the fact that the broader scientific community does not support the view that fugitive emissions from oil and gas production are causing a global methane spike.[3]

And what of the scientific view in Australia? CSIRO’s GISERA has assessed the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of a coal seam gas (CSG) to liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Queensland, and the relative climate benefits of using natural gas in place of black coal as fuel for generation of electricity in Australia.[4]

That report uses production and emissions data from Queensland using a Surat Basin project, and is the first time that direct measurements of the full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with an operating onshore gas project in Australia have been used, and provide valuable data into the benefits of natural gas for electricity generation.

Outlining the benefits of replacing coal-fired electricity with natural gas, the report found that lifecycle emissions could be reduced by between 31 per cent and 50 per cent.[5]

Furthermore, the CSIRO has found indirect and external greenhouse gas emissions associated with CSG production, compression, dehydration, water treatment and liquefaction represented around 1.4 per cent of likely future production, and well below other sources like landfill and cattle feedlots.

Bob Carr could do well to listen to the scientific evidence on fugitive emissions and not take a single source of advice.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/19/climate/methane-flaring-oil-emissions.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/02/19/were-vastly-undercounting-methane-emissions-fossil-fuels-scientists-say/

[3] https://undark.org/2019/05/13/methane-global-warming-climate-change-mystery/

[4] https://gisera.csiro.au/project/whole-of-life-cycle-greenhouse-gas-assessment/

[5] https://gisera.csiro.au/project/whole-of-life-cycle-greenhouse-gas-assessment/