The Future of Gas in Australia: Small and Dwindling

Turning Off the Gas

Turning Off the Gas Navigating Australia’s Transition to a Renewable Future

In recent times, the diminishing role of gas in Australia’s energy landscape has become a topic of intense discussion. As the nation moves towards a cleaner, renewable energy future, it is imperative that we rapidly phase out the use of coal and gas power to mitigate further climate impacts.

  • Climate Impact of Gas: Natural gas, a significant contributor to climate change, releases methane—a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2 in the short term—throughout its supply chain.
  • Declining Role in Energy Mix: Gas now constitutes less than 5% of Australia’s energy generation, overtaken by renewable sources which supply over 35% of electricity, showcasing the viability of a shift away from fossil fuels.
  • Economic and Social Costs: The reliance on expensive, volatile gas not only inflates energy costs for Australian consumers but also ties the domestic market to global price shocks, such as those experienced during international conflicts.
  • Renewable Alternatives and Efficiency: Advancements in solar, wind, and storage technologies, along with the increasing affordability of electric appliances, offer a cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient alternative to gas.
  • Policy and Public Support: Government initiatives like the $1 billion low-interest loan package for energy efficiency upgrades reflect growing legislative and public support for moving away from fossil fuels.

The scientific evidence is unequivocal: the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and gas, are the primary drivers of climate change. The development of new fossil fuel projects is incompatible with maintaining a safe climate for our planet.

Fortunately, Australia has readily available alternatives in the form of solar and wind power, supported by storage technologies. Moreover, electric appliances such as stovetops, heaters, and solar hot water systems are becoming increasingly affordable, accessible, and free from the harmful toxins associated with gas appliances. A growing number of Australians are recognizing the numerous benefits of transitioning away from polluting and inefficient gas appliances and embracing clean, electric alternatives.

The 2023/2024 Federal Budget introduced by the Albanese Labor Government included a $1 billion low-interest loan package to support energy efficiency upgrades in residential properties. While this is a positive step, additional measures are necessary to expedite the managed phase-out of gas in Australian homes and businesses.

Fracking Rig
Fracking Rig

As the gas industry faces mounting pressure, it has resorted to desperate measures to maintain its foothold. Recent weeks have seen gas companies offering to pay individuals to remain connected to the gas network, funding newspaper advertisements containing baseless claims about unproven gas alternatives, and launching extensive advertising campaigns designed to mislead the public and protect their profits from the continued use of fossil gas in Australia’s energy system.

However, the facts speak for themselves:

  1. Gas is a fossil fuel that exacerbates harmful climate change. As a significant source of methane, the second most potent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, gas contributes to climate change throughout its entire supply chain, even before combustion. Methane’s global warming potential is up to 80 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
  2. Renewable energy sources now account for more than 35% of our electricity in the National Electricity Market, while gas generation has dropped below 5% in the first quarter of 2023. The influx of solar, wind, and battery projects across the country is securing the nation’s power supply, and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has stated that a fully renewable-powered grid can be achieved without the need for new gas infrastructure.
  3. Nearly 80% of the gas produced in Australia is exported overseas, along with the profits. Australia, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied gas, forces its citizens to compete with rising global export prices for their own gas supply, while gas companies reap substantial profits. Ironically, the gas industry itself is the second-largest consumer of gas in Australia, using more gas to run their export terminals than all of Australia’s power stations and manufacturing combined, and almost three times as much as Australian households.
  4. Gas is driving up power prices in Australia. The volatile international markets, influenced by events such as the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian gas and oil, have led to spikes in fossil fuel prices, directly impacting wholesale electricity and gas prices in Australia and causing power bills to soar. Gas appliances are less efficient than their electric counterparts, consuming more energy and resulting in higher operating costs.
Fracking Poisons Water
Fracking Poisons Water

Leave Gas Underground – The Environmental Impacts of Gas Exploration and Production

Gas exploration and production can have severe and far-reaching consequences for the natural environment. These impacts can be felt across multiple spheres, from local ecosystems to the global climate.

Land Disturbance and Habitat Destruction

One of the most visible impacts of gas exploration is the extensive disturbance of land surfaces. The construction of access roads, drilling sites, and associated infrastructure often requires significant deforestation and the disruption of natural habitats. This can lead to a reduction in biodiversity as local flora and fauna are displaced or unable to adapt to the altered landscape. The fragmentation of habitats can also interfere with the migration patterns and breeding cycles of various species, further exacerbating the ecological damage.

Water Resource Depletion and Contamination

Gas exploration and extraction processes, particularly hydraulic fracturing (fracking), require substantial amounts of water. This can put a strain on local water resources, particularly in regions already prone to water scarcity. Moreover, the chemicals used in drilling fluids and fracking fluids can contaminate both surface water and groundwater. The migration of methane and other contaminants into drinking water supplies poses significant health risks to local communities and wildlife.

Air Quality Deterioration and Climate Impact

The exploration and extraction of natural gas release a range of air pollutants, including methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a warming potential many times greater than carbon dioxide. Its release contributes significantly to climate change. VOCs and NOx, when exposed to sunlight, react to form ground-level ozone, a key component of smog. This can lead to respiratory issues in humans and animals and can damage crops and other vegetation. The lifecycle of natural gas, from extraction to combustion, also releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide, further exacerbating global warming.

Noise Pollution and Its Effects on Wildlife

The noise generated by gas exploration and production activities, such as drilling, heavy machinery operation, and truck traffic, can have a profound impact on local wildlife. Many species rely on sound for communication, navigation, and survival. The constant noise pollution can disrupt these essential behaviors, leading to increased stress levels, altered migration patterns, and reduced reproductive success. The health and quality of life of nearby human communities can also be affected by the incessant noise.

Induced Seismicity and Its Consequences

In some regions, the injection of wastewater from gas extraction back into the earth has been linked to increased seismic activity. These man-made earthquakes can cause damage to infrastructure, homes, and other buildings, posing safety risks to local residents. The long-term effects of induced seismicity on geological stability are not yet fully understood, adding to the concerns surrounding this practice.

Soil Degradation and Contamination

Accidental spills of chemicals or wastewater during the drilling or transportation process can lead to soil contamination. This can have devastating effects on plant life, as well as the animals that depend on those plants for food and shelter. Contaminated soil can also leach pollutants into groundwater, spreading the impact beyond the immediate spill site. The accumulation of contaminants in the food chain can ultimately impact human health through the consumption of affected plants and animals.

The multifaceted environmental impacts of gas exploration and production underscore the need for stricter regulations and oversight of the industry. Improved practices, such as the use of non-toxic drilling fluids, the responsible disposal of wastewater, and the minimization of methane leaks, can help mitigate some of these impacts. But the long-term solution lies in the transition away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. By investing in renewable energy infrastructure and implementing policies that support this transition, we can work towards a future where the environmental costs of energy production are significantly reduced.

The continued burning of gas will only expose more Australians to the risks associated with climate change and rising costs of living. To achieve the necessary steep emissions reductions this decade and protect Australians from the dangerous and accelerating impacts of climate change, we must rapidly phase out gas from our energy system and transition to clean, renewable power sources.