NEWS FROM THE FRONT DESK: In the lead up to the federal election, the gas industry is spending big on TV ads – but the only thing more toxic than its misinformation is its product.
You’ve probably seen what we’re talking about: Daddy’s cooking dinner while his daughter plays with bubbles in the bath.
And the voice over: “Some things never change, but the flame we use will – it’s becoming renewable! Controllable, reliable gas for this generation and the next.”
It all sounds great, doesn’t it?
Bad luck this message is so misleading – and downright dangerous.
But desperate times give rise to desperate measures. And there are some good reasons why the fossil fuel industry is feeling the heat at the moment.
One is the election and a rising tide of Teal independents that’s put Scott Morrison’s campaign to promote “oil and gas sectors to ensure we can reduce emissions” on the ropes.
That’s not good news for an industry that’s banking on the kind of “commitment to climate action” we’ve come to expect from this federal government. For example handouts such as:
- $7.5 billion in petrol subsidies to the mining sector each year
- 38.7 million for targeted support of gas infrastructure projects
- $250 million for carbon capture use and storage projects
- $3.5 million for a Future Gas Infrastructure Investment Framework that will consider medium to long-term gas projects
- $6.2 million to accelerate the development of the Wallumbilla Gas Supply Hub in Queensland
- carbon credits to carbon capture and storage projects run by companies involved in fracking coal-seam gas
(There’s more but if we listed all the handouts you’d be reading this article all day!)
Another thing making the gas industry nervous is that cheap renewables and energy storage solutions, including lithium and Australian-designed Redflow batteries, are fast making fossil fuels redundant.
While most homes mainly use gas for cooking or heating, modern induction cooktops, reverse cycle airconditioners and heat pumps are fast making gas appliances obsolete.
Electric appliances backed by renewables and storage mean you can have zero emissions cooking and heating.
With commercial buildings the appetite to go all electric and gas free is ramping up fast.
It’s why the Green Building Council now only awards 6 Star Green Star ratings to all-electric buildings that are not hooked up to gas.
Mix in growing demand for green buildings with the growing number of people who prefer EVs, public transport and active transport, and you can see the oil and gas business has some problems on its hands.
So what do you do when the world will soon no longer needs the dinosaur fossil juice your industry sells?
You bring out the greenwash, of course!
Sure enough, in the lead up to the 2022 federal election, the gas industry is desperately ramping up its fight to keep gas viable.
You’d probably be nauseated to see the cutesy scene of daddy cooking dinner while his daughter plays with bubbles in the bath (unaware her daddy is probably giving her asthma or other respiratory disease).
The line about gas “becoming renewable” is “controllable, reliable gas for this generation and the next,” will likely have your teeth on edge.
When it comes to reaching net zero, what the gas industry is selling is brown energy disguised as Bob Brown energy.
The built environment accounts for almost a quarter of Australia’s emissions. Around 10 to 30 per cent of those emissions come from gas in buildings.
The oil and gas sector likes to call the toxic stuff they sell “natural gas”. It’s “natural” in the same sense that snake venom is natural – and you probably don’t want either in your house.
That “natural” gas is mostly made up of a toxic chemical called methane.
The emissions from this greenhouse gas aren’t just released when you burn it (the jargon term is “scope one emissions”). It also escapes into the atmosphere while it’s being extracted, processed or distributed (scope three emissions).
Those gas emissions are cooking the planet. Scope three emissions from methane escaping into the atmosphere have three times more impact over a 20-year span than the carbon dioxide that comes from it being burned.
It gets worse. Gas stoves release methane even when they’re not in use.
In fact, studies from the US show that leaks from gas stoves in 40 million American homes produce around 28,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.
That’s around the same as the emissions from 500,000 petrol cars.
In short, saying gas is less bad for the climate than coal is a bit like saying being hit by a car is less bad than being run down by a fast-moving truck.
Of course, the emissions from your gas appliances aren’t just killing the Earth – they’re killing you and your children too.
When you burn gas in your home, you’re letting off a whole range of nasty pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine, toxic particulate matter.
At The Fifth Estate, we’re not medical experts – but the National Asthma Council of Australia is.
And, according to the council, around 12 per cent of all childhood asthma in Australia can be directly attributed to the use of gas stoves for cooking.
But what about the methane emissions when you’re not cooking? What if you open all the doors and windows?
A 2018 study from Pennsylvania showed that children faced a 25 per cent greater risk of
being hospitalised for asthma during the three-month period when a gas well was drilled nearby.
Apologies for the drama, but if your kids have asthma and you use gas appliances, you’re probably making their disease worse.
But asthma isn’t the only health problem that studies have linked to the pollutants from gas appliances.
Pollutants build up quickly in household while the stoves are on and contribute to respiratory diseases, especially in children.
Among many other health problems, health problems that have been linked to gas include:
- disruption of female and male reproductive hormones
- pre-term births
- low birth weight
- congenital heart defects and other birth defects
- upper respiratory tract infections,
- migraines and fatigue
- urinary tract problems
- blood and immune conditions
- skin conditions
- Childhood cancer
If you live in a house with gas appliances and you feel healthier when you’re on holidays somewhere without them – well, you now know one of the reasons why.
Frankly, that dad who’s cooking with gas around children is being as reckless as a parent who smokes indoors.
Didn’t the ads say that their gas is “renewable” now?
What they’re talking about with that is what’s known as blended gas. That’s the usual toxic methane they sell, mixed with around 5 to 10 per cent hydrogen.
That makes slightly less bad for the planet – as long as that hydrogen is made from renewables.
Just like arsenic might be slightly less bad if it were diluted.
The industry claims it wants to fully decarbonise its distribution by 2050 and “use our existing infrastructure to supply renewable gas to our customers”.
Again, this is sleight-of-hand using a lot of carbon credits.
Want to transport hydrogen down existing household gas pipes? Here’s some of the challenges the US Department of Energy says you’ll need to overcome:
“Key challenges to hydrogen delivery include reducing cost, increasing energy efficiency, maintaining hydrogen purity, and minimising hydrogen leakage. Further research is needed to analyse the trade-offs between the hydrogen production options and the hydrogen delivery options when considered together as a system.”
And quite apart from these issues we haven’t even mentioned the problems that come from gas drilling techniques, such as fracking.
(“Fracking” is basically drilling deep beneath the earth, blasting it with steam, bulldozing the land, melting the gas and oil trapped in rocks, and in the meantime likely poisoning any living creature or water supply nearby.)
But even if we did have a clean way to make and transport gas, we still don’t need it. We already have renewables, energy storage and electric appliances.
And if you still use gas? Well, make sure you download a copy of the Green Building Council’s Practical guide to building decarbonisation. It’ll be good for your health.