Monday, 15 May 2017

Of Gas and Hot Air

Energy security became a major political issue following a storm-induced blackout in South Australia late last year.  Instead of the massive storm which knocked over the transmission towers being the “villain”, the Prime Minister and his Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg  blamed the state’s level of renewable (wind) energy for the outage. They have persisted with this version of events regardless of all the evidence to the contrary.
In the months since then politicians and others have had a great deal to say about the national energy grid and its shortcomings and renewables and base-load power.  Ideology has played a very significant part in the statements of many politicians. This of course means that truth has often been twisted or completely ignored. 
Recently the focus has been on gas and a predicted gas shortage.
Despite the claims of the Government and many industry players, there is no general gas shortage.  There is, however, a looming domestic shortage because most of the enormous volume of gas being extracted is being exported. 
The Federal Government has rather belatedly recognised that, despite the fact that Australia will soon be the largest gas-exporting country in the world, there will be a shortage of gas for the domestic market.  Moreover, the Government has realised that domestic consumers are paying more for gas than consumers of Australian gas in Japan - even after the cost of processing and transporting of the resource to that country. This has become a rather urgent matter for the Government because domestic gas prices and the uncertainty of supply is hurting local industries.  For a government that talks about jobs and growth, permitting more of our dwindling manufacturing base going either “down the gurgler” or offshore would be politically foolish.
As the Prime Minister’s meetings in recent months with the major gas exporters have not produced the cooperation he hoped for, he recently decided to take further action.  It is action that the industry is unhappy about saying that this will discourage global investment, a claim which is unsubstantiated. There are others, including some in the Government, who believe that this interference in the market is not justified.
What happens elsewhere?  Western Australia, the one Australian state which had the forethought to realise that there was a need to protect local interests, has a gas reservation policy[1]. Many other countries, including Canada, the USA, Israel, Indonesia and Egypt, have various mechanisms to ensure that they won’t end up in the situation that Australia is heading towards.  In their rush to encourage foreign investment, successive Australian Federal Governments failed to see that safeguards to protect domestic gas supplies were needed in the national interest.
Prime Minister Turnbull has stated that his measures will only be needed for the short term because he expects that there will be further development of local gasfields which can service the domestic market. He is referring specifically to NSW and Victoria which have currently stopped unconventional gas mining. (There is an exception in NSW.  Santos’ project in the Pilliga in the north-west is currently going through the planning approval process.)
The Prime Minister is one of many politicians and industry players who have weighed in wanting the opening up of NSW and Victoria to coal seam and unconventional gas mining. 
Recently Ian Macfarlane, the head of the Queensland Resources Council, and a former federal Coalition Minister, criticised the NSW and Victorian Governments for lacking the will to develop their gas resources in the same way that Queensland has.[2] 
What Macfarlane either does not understand or conveniently ignores is that it is what happened in Queensland as well as overseas in the USA and elsewhere that alarmed communities in NSW and Victoria and generated the campaigns against CSG and unconventional gas mining – campaigns that have gathered strength also in the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia. 
In his interview with Leigh Sales on ABC TV’s 7.30 on April 27 Macfarlane paints a very rosy picture of the industry in Queensland [3]. He claims “irresponsible green activism” stopped the industry in NSW.   Blaming the anti-gas campaign on the “greenie” bogey is convenient for many conservatives but is far from a true reflection of the breadth of community opposition to an invasive and polluting industry.
It will be interesting to see whether the urging of the Federal Government and proponents like Macfarlane encourage the NSW and Victorian Governments to change their positions on gas mining. If this happens, the reaction from those who see the industry as an unacceptable threat to agriculture and the environment is easy to predict.
Northern Rivers         
5 May 2017

GuestSpeak is a feature of North Coast Voices allowing Northern Rivers residents to make satirical or serious comment on issues that concern them. Posts of 250-300 words or less can be submitted to ncvguestspeak AT for consideration. Longer posts will be considered on topical subjects.

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