If you caught a glimpse of the ABC’s QandA on Monday night you’d see the Coalition government is hellbent on supporting the gas industry, such as proposing a gas pipeline from Western Australia to the eastern states regardless of what the science says or what the last fire season made abundantly clear. So we’re taking a look at what the gas industry is doing in Australia and in the US, which we seem to be unnervingly tracking closely. This is unpalatable reading, but we need to know.
A recently leaked report revealed that recommendations from Australia’s National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission manufacturing taskforce wants to underwrite a massive expansion of Australia’s natural gas production by financing new projects and tax incentives.
Just recently, another recommendation called for federal investments in new gas pipelines including a massive pipeline from Western Australia to the south easter states.
These proposals have already drawn support from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who made it clear he wants to support the gas industry.
“I have talked a lot of times about what we need do in the gas sector and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the months ahead,” he said.
“What we’re doing in our manufacturing sector, what we’re doing to get infrastructure, getting almost $10 billion brought forward – that’s the plan.”
Chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board Nev Power said that while he did not explicitly oppose a renewably focused recovery, “our focus has been on where private sector investment is prepared to invest in the short term to create jobs and economic growth.”
However, experts argue that there is no evidence to support a gas fuelled recovery, both environmentally and economically speaking.
While the government pushes the narrative for “cheap” natural gas, the evidence actually points toward renewably generated electricity as the most cost effective option in the long run.
A report from Beyond Zero Emissions estimated that renewable electricity prices could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2028 thanks to lower on-site PV prices and power purchase agreements.
Electrical heat processes have also proven faster and more efficient than gas fired heat, often able to halve the amount of energy required that could significantly reduce manufacturing costs.
Meddling to boost the manufacturing sector quickly could also have long lasting consequences on the overall energy market.
Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood expressed concern that by bailing out natural gas, the government is directly disrupting the trend towards an economically viable, low carbon economy.
“In general, the best role of government is to reduce or eliminate barriers to economically efficient decisions by investors. Unclear energy/climate change policy, direct government intervention in the electricity market and early-mover technology risks are the biggest such barriers,” he said.
“Few areas in the energy sector justify immediate funding based on a short-term stimulus for economy activity and jobs. There will be more urgent priorities.”
To lean on natural gas now could set Australia back behind the pace set overseas and domestically as more businesses and governments turn their resources toward greener recoveries and a more sustainable future.
Ecovantage chief executive officer Bruce Easton hopes the federal government will invest its money wisely and pick the option with long term returns, not just some quick cash that will cost more in the end.
“If the momentum both in Australia and overseas has been building to support not just
electrification but degasification, we can only ask that our Federal government follows where
the smart money is going and help us get there.”
In the US Trump digs in with gas infrastructure
In the US the Trump administration is doubling down on new oil and gas projects, including a controversial drilling plan in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The first leases to drill for oil and gas in the refuge could be available as early as the end of 2020 according to Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt.
The official leasing program marks one of the final stages for the embattled drilling project, opposed by environmentalists and members of Alaska’s Indigenous communities.
In addition to new projects, the US Department of Energy committed $33 million in funds to retrofit 10 existing pipelines as part of the Rapid Encapsulation of Pipelines Avoiding Intensive Replacement (REPAIR) program.
Under the Trump administration, liquid natural gas exports grew fivefold, securing the United States as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas.
In the announcement, Under Secretary of Energy Mark W Menezes applauded the administration for investing in what he called a crucial and growing industry.
“Enhancing America’s energy infrastructure, particularly for our abundant, reliable and affordable natural gas, is one of the highest priorities of this Administration,” Menezes said.
Biden vows to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released his new ambitious climate plan, openly challenging the fossil fuel energy.
In his plan, Biden claimed he will get rid of fossil fuel subsidies within his first year as president.
Biden hopes to redirect the funds for subsidies toward investing in clean energy infrastructure including net zero construction, renewable energy and advancing carbon capture technology.
Biden also plans to make this a part of his foreign policy, engaging key leaders from G20 nations, including notable fossil fuel giant China, to secure a global commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
This marks a full 180 turn from where the US has been going under the Trump administration, which has been notoriously coal and gas friendly.
Democrats back down on fossil money
Despite a strong stance from presidential nominee Joe Biden, the Democratic party quietly weakened its rhetoric on fossil fuel funds.
Prior to the Democratic National Convention, the party removed a statement against fossil fuel subsidies from its platform despite the environment’s role as a major talking point.
The provision was added over the summer, stating “Democrats support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels, and will fight to defend and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy,” however, no such line exists in the final version.
A DNC spokesperson told the HuffPost that the amendment was “incorrectly included in the Manager’s Mark” and removed “after the error was discovered.”
This has not gone unnoticed by environmentalists, with Greenpeace giving the platform a C+, a whole grade lower than both Biden and Harris, citing “critical policy gaps in addressing the power of the fossil fuel industry.”
This is not the first time the DNC flip flopped on climate matters this election cycle, with leadership voting down delegate demands for a climate debate.
Republicans support fracking jobs at RNC
Hydraulic fracking got a solid shout out at the Republican National Convention as some of the night’s most notable speakers attempted to paint a grim portrait of America under Biden.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley accused the “socialist left” of trying to “ban fracking and kill millions of jobs,” in a highly praised speech during night one of the convention.
Haley has been a notable ally of the fracking industry and her speech, along with her 180 degree switch to Trump supporter, positioned her as one to watch for a presidential bid in the near future.
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel chose to go after what she considered Biden’s “nice guy” persona at the DNC, adding that “eliminating 10 million good-paying oil and gas jobs is not nice.”
Haley and McDaniel’s speeches added to the overall pattern painting Biden as weak to the wills of the Democratic party rather than a direct threat, despite Biden’s stronger fossil fuel stance.
It should be noted that neither Biden nor the Democratic party addressed fracking in their platforms.
API doubles down on “cleaner” gas before the election
With the US election coming fast, the nation’s largest fossil fuel trade association is ramping up its advertising to make natural gas look like a clean alternative.
In the wake of Biden’s climate plan announcement, Reuters found that the American Petroleum Institute ramped up its Facebook ad spending by US$24,000, six times the daily average it spent in the previous six months.
The “Energy for Progress” campaign primarily targets young audiences and tight congressional battlegrounds, promoting natural gas as the “cleaner” alternative to coal.
The API’s website previously described natural gas as “clean” energy before amending the description to say “cleaner,” though some ads have not made the switch.
The campaigns tout evidence that natural gas is cleaner compared to sources such as coal, citing statistics that gas releases half the CO2 as coal and served a key part in reducing the United States’ emissions.
However, scientific experts warn that this messaging is highly misleading as the industry is still a significant carbon emitter, both of CO2 and the even more dangerous methane.