Crikey has a look at the lobbying being done on behalf of the natural gas (particularly coal seam gas) industry to try to demolish opposition to expanded drilling programs - Gas shortage? Tapping the bubbling wells of spin and self-interest. One benefit of Labor losing office is Martin Ferguson no longer being in Parliament - its a shame he didn't retire to obscurity instead of getting paid to do what he was doing before as energy minister - lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.
New South Wales is about to run out of gas, so says the scare campaign. It’s bully-boy tactics by Australia’s powerful oil and gas industry, designed to pressure the state government into quickly approving contentious coal seam gas projects proposed by Santos at Narrabri and AGL at Gloucester.
Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is on board, warning last year NSW would “run short of gas by 2016” and moving to knock heads together on the issue straight after the election. For months we have been hearing the same lines trotted out: how NSW is “running on empty”, suddenly needs “energy security”, and how developing its own “indigenous” gas supplies will ease prices.
Former John Howard industrial relations minister Peter Reith — whose recommendation to lift fracking bans was ignored by the Victorian government last year — used his column in Fairfax papers yesterday to accuse the O’Farrell government of abandoning the CSG debate, warning “there is a real prospect Sydney could suffer gas shortages”. Reith failed to disclose his consultancy with construction giant Bechtel, a major contractor to the CSG industry.
Former federal energy minister Martin Ferguson was appointed chair of new advisory group APPEA (“the voice of Australia’s oil and gas industry”) in October, barely six months after he stepped down from his cabinet post and only weeks after retiring from Parliament — flouting the 18-month cooling-off period required of ex-ministers under the lobbying code of conduct. Ferguson had a dig at his erstwhile NSW Labor colleagues for “parroting the lines of the Greens and showing itself to be completely irrelevant to the debate”, urging Premier Barry O’Farrell to break “the impasse preventing the development of the state’s abundant gas resources to put downward pressure on rising prices”.
The ABC’s fact checkers concluded Macfarlane’s alarming claims about a NSW gas shortage were “unverifiable”. They were way too generous. The claims are rubbish, designed to confuse the public. Here’s what they’re not telling you:
* No one is going to run out of gas; * Developing CSG in NSW won’t lower rising gas prices; * It’s too late anyway for NSW CSG to ease the current uncertainty affecting gas markets; and * There are plenty of alternative sources of supply for NSW.
Australia has an incredible amount of gas; we’re about to overtake Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. Between Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, seven LNG projects worth more than $200 billion are on the go.
The chart above shows three seriously big gas resources that supply the southern and eastern states: the massive coal seam gas in Queensland’s Bowen and Surat basins (41620PJ), plus conventional gas in the Gippsland Basin (3890PJ) and the Cooper Basin (1835PJ). Not shown but certainly exercising the mind of investors is a vast potential resource of tight and shale gas in the Cooper Basin — which may turn out to be bigger than CSG in Queensland, and which oil majors like Chevron and BG Group are scrambling to invest in. By comparison, the coal seam gas discovered in NSW is significant, but no game-changer: Santos has 1426PJ in the Gunnedah Basin, which accounts for half the state’s known reserves.
Overall, there is no doubt Australia has enough gas in the ground to supply both the domestic and export markets. As a country we can afford to think strategically, pick and choose which gas fields we develop, and in what order.
As the Australian Energy Market Operator found last year, if there’s one place in Australia susceptible to shortage it’s Gladstone in Queensland. That’s where three massive LNG export projects operated by BG, Santos and Origin Energy are about to treble gas demand in eastern Australia — ultimately representing some 80% of total gas demand in the eastern market — once they begin to come online later this year. By exposing the domestic market to higher international LNG prices of around $14-15 a gigajoule (which are geared to the oil price), the LNG projects are going to double domestic wholesale gas prices, from around $3-4/GJ to $8-10/GJ and higher, inevitably pushing up retail prices (as NSW saw last week).
The three big projects in Gladstone were approved quickly in 2010 and 2011 — without any strategic consideration of the impact on the domestic gas market — in a rush to sign lucrative contracts with buyers in Asia. It’s a bold experiment; the world’s first attempt to convert coal seam gas into LNG for export. Nobody knows yet if the thousands of CSG wells required to feed the six big LNG liquefaction units (or “trains”) under construction — each one consuming roughly as much gas each year as say Queensland or Victoria, so adding six new states’ worth of demand to the network — can be drilled fast enough, and will flow enough gas for long enough, to fulfil those contractual commitments.