Senator Larissa Waters: The Greens support the aim of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Cross-boundary Greenhouse Gas Titles and Other Measures) Bill 2019 to strengthen and clarify the monitoring, inspection and enforcement powers of NOPSEMA during an oil pollution emergency. Earlier this year we celebrated Equinor pulling out of the Great Australian Bight. It was a huge win for environmentalists, coastal communities and the surfing community. For those who love our pristine beaches, the risk of an oil pollution emergency was not something to be monitored or managed; it was to be avoided at all costs. Thousands of people stood up, and Equinor stood down. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young will be moving amendments in the committee stage of this bill to secure the ongoing protection of the bight from the sorts of emergencies that this bill is designed to manage.

But what of the ongoing climate emergency? We’ve just experienced one of the hottest summers on record and a devastating bushfire season that claimed 34 lives. Regional communities are still struggling to recover from the impacts in the brief reprieve before the fire season starts again. But, despite the need for urgent climate action, Australia’s pollution from oil and gas production has increased a staggering 621 per cent since 2005, and it continues to rise each quarter. It’s no wonder that we’re on track for 3.4 degrees of warming.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recently released a report comparing government and industry use of methane emissions data to the scandal of Volkswagen under-reporting its emissions. That report notes that methane from gas poses the greatest threat to the warming climate.

Peer reviewed studies have consistently shown that so-called natural gas emissions have actually been underestimated by at least 25 to 40 per cent, with some studies suggesting as much as 60 per cent. Methane leaks like a sieve from fracking for unconventional gas, and those fugitive emissions, when properly accounted for, make gas almost as polluting as coal, with damage to underground water supplies thrown in to boot. Yet the gas industry in Australia has no intention of reducing supply, and, therefore, its emissions. Instead, Australia’s gas industry has the enthusiastic support of government to keep polluting, with a long list of new gas projects, both onshore and offshore, from Narrabri to the Galilee, from the Beetaloo Basin to the Burrup Peninsula. Perhaps the regular donations from the gas industry—and they go to both sides of politics—are what shore up that enthusiastic support.

While the country’s attention has been on COVID responses, NOPSEMA, the regulator, has quietly approved the Scarborough offshore gasfield development. That development is part of Woodside’s proposed $50 billion Burrup Hub LNG project, which analysis estimates would have a footprint of six billion tonnes—that’s six gigatonnes—of carbon pollution, equivalent to four Adani sized coalmines. Emissions at that scale will jeopardise any prospect of Australia meeting its Paris climate targets. But most concerning is the statement from NOPSEMA that the project will be contributing to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. This is straight from the industry and government playbook that talks up gas as a transitional fuel. But there is little evidence that gas is in fact displacing coal globally. It simply adds to the carbon intensity in many countries, and it can divert efforts from a genuine switch to renewables. And no end date is being proposed for this so-called transition fuel.

Australia’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for a genuine transition to a genuinely clean renewable future. The International Renewable Energy Agency has estimated that a renewable energy driven transition to zero net emissions would boost global GDP by $155 trillion. Numerous business leaders have urged the government to use the recovery to invest in renewables to support a green steel manufacturing boom and to provide sustainable jobs for regional areas. And yet this government remains focused on a gas fired recovery, and so the carbon racket goes on.

Given the energy minister’s obsession with oil, gas and coal, it’s hardly surprising that the COVID-19 commission, tasked with guiding our recovery, is stacked with the government’s fossil fuel mates. The chair, Mr Nev Power, is the director of an onshore gas exploration company, Strike Energy. Catherine Tanna is the managing director of Energy Australia and, of course, was a former director of the BG Group, which led the charge to open up Queensland’s gasfields. The list of high-priority projects promoted by the commission includes a new fertiliser plant that is only possible if the Narrabri gas project proceeds. History shows that incumbent industries like the fossil fuel lobby use their power to convince governments that an economic crisis could justify the relaxation of climate change and environmental regulations. We will stand against such attempts.

My bill to give traditional owners, farmers and landholders the right to say no to gas companies—and coal companies, for that matter—has been before this parliament since 2011. We will continue to fight for those rights to protect land, water, the climate and people’s livelihoods. We’ll continue to push for the true cost of carbon emissions to be accounted for and for big emitters to be held responsible. That brings me to the Greens second reading amendment on sheet 8894, which I so move:

At the end of the motion, add:”, but the Senate notes that:

(a) Australia’s emissions from gas production has risen a staggering 621 per cent since 2005 to record high levels;

(b) the gas industry no longer pays for its emissions, and that regulatory attempts to require carbon abatement be purchased from farmers and land managers have been thwarted by the industry and their close financial and employment relationships with political parties; and

(c) letting gas companies pollute for free is denying new income streams for Australia’s farmers struggling through a deep drought, exacerbated by the gas industry”.

I move this amendment to recognise that polluting companies are currently not paying for the damage they do.

When the carbon price was first established, Western Australia removed its requirements for gas projects to pay farmers to abate carbon emissions. But, despite the scrapping of the carbon price, the abatement requirements were not put back in place. When the WA EPA introduced guidelines last year requiring resource projects to completely offset their greenhouse gas emissions, the usual suspects were outraged and demanded the guidelines be withdrawn, and they were. New guidelines have not yet been finalised. The gas donors called in their favours and used the Liberal and Labor parties to squash reform. If resource companies were required to buy Australian certified carbon units, it would not only drive efforts to reduce emissions; it would transfer wealth from gas companies to farmers, who desperately need the income stream. It will be interesting to see whose side the National Party is on. When we vote on my second reading amendment, which notes this, we invite the Nationals to come over and vote with us, to represent farmers instead of their coal, oil and gas donors.

Source: Parliament of Australia Website Creative Commons