Australia says it will reduce methane emissions despite coal seam gas and LNG expansion
17 November 2016 | Mitigation
Australia has signed an international agreement committing to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, and calling for other countries to do the same, sparking claims it is being hypocritical and could “seriously damage our reputation in climate talks”.
The Marrakech communique, signed this week at the first meeting of parties to the Paris agreement in Morocco, commits a coalition of countries including Australia to take measures to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.
Methane is a short-lived but highly potent greenhouse gas, exerting a warming influence 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.
The communique, signed by 38 countries, acknowledges that: “The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane globally and the next big opportunity for climate reductions as cost-effective measures can be taken to significantly reduce these emissions.”
The signatories said they will reduce leaks from the gas industry, known as “fugitive emissions”, by “developing and implementing national methane reduction strategies, regulations, policies, or enhanced actions including those which encourage energy efficiency and fuel shifts”.
But, in recent years, Australia has massively expanded its coal seam gas industry and is set to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
In addition, Australia has not been rigorously measuring fugitive emissions from the gas industry in Australia and reporting to the UNFCCC a figure that is much smaller than that found in similar operations in other countries.
A recent report by the Melbourne Energy Institute, commissioned by the Australia Institute, showed Australia claimed that only 0.5% of gas produced in Australia is released into the atmosphere in fugitive emissions.
But studies in the US have found those emissions are always higher than that – often 150 times as high and sometimes 300 times as high.
While there have been no proper studies measuring fugitive emissions in Australia, the studies that have been done found evidence of significant emissions from sources that Australia claims to have zero emissions from.
Mark Ogge, principal adviser at the the Australia Institute, said he welcomed the fact the country that was set to become the world’s biggest methane exporter was concerned about methane emissions.
But Ogge said: “This commitment, if it is to be taken seriously, must come with a recognition that international standards for measuring fugitive emission, which are funded independently, should be supported.
“If Australia wants to sign an international agreement to do something we don’t do ourselves … it will seriously damage our reputation in climate talks.”
He said the situation was particularly serious in Australia’s coal seam gas industry. “Australia uses an outdated and very low assumption supplied by the US gas industry that was developed for conventional oil extraction in the US in the 1990s,” Ogge said.
“The assumption only covers well pads, which make up a tiny fraction of CSG infrastructure. It doesn’t count intentional and unintentional methane release from multiple known major sources of emissions including huge water treatment plants, water and gas pipelines (with vents directly to the atmosphere) and migratory emissions caused by depressurising vast areas of coal seams.”
A spokesman for Australia’s federal minister for the environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, said that all emissions from the CSG industry are included in an accounting inventory and insisted that, while those are made up of estimations, those estimations are in compliance with IPCC guidelines.
When asked what measures Australia would take to reduce fugitive emissions, the spokesman referred to Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund, which pays polluters to reduce emissions.
“For example, the Emissions Reduction Fund enables businesses to earn carbon credits by undertaking projects to reduce emissions such as reducing fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector,” he said.
Source: The Guardian