What the frack? Australia overtakes Qatar as world’s largest gas exporter

18.01.19 By

Australia recently overtook Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of gas (exported as Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG). LNG is gas which has been cooled down to liquid form for storage and transport.

Producing and exporting LNG is driving dramatic growth in Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution. The growth of LNG exports has also led to rising and increasingly volatile gas prices here in Australia.

There are currently seven LNG production plants in Australia. By 2020, Australia will be operating ten LNG production plants and potentially exporting more than 80 million tonnes of LNG per year.

LNG gas station in Gladstone, QLD
LNG plant in Gladstone, QLD. Image: The Australian Greens, licensed under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s no secret Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels are rising.

Without credible climate policy, projections anticipate pollution will keep going up – pollution levels in 2030 are projected to be higher than today. Australia’s dramatic expansion in LNG production and export is a major factor driving current and future emissions growth. Extracting, transporting and burning gas releases greenhouse gas pollution in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas (25 times more polluting than carbon dioxide).

LNG is driving emissions growth because producing LNG for export requires large amounts of electricity. In addition, ‘fugitive emissions’ (emissions from gas leaks, venting and equipment purging) are released at all stages of the gas supply chain from extraction through to transport and production. Fugitive emissions in Australia have risen 41% since 2005.

The dramatic growth in greenhouse gas pollution associated with LNG between 2015 and 2020 will effectively cancel out emissions reductions from Australia’s national Renewable Energy Target.

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Indeed, the emissions resulting from unconventional gas extraction (coal seam gas or shale gas) in Australia could actually be worse than reported. This is because Australia’s reporting relies heavily on estimates based on out-of-date United States studies, rather than systematic measurement of actual emissions from Australia’s coal seam gas industry. Currently the emissions from unconventional gas in Australia are largely unknown due to a lack of measurement and data.

As Australia opens new LNG production plants and exports more and more gas, there is likely to be increased dependence on unconventional gas sources to meet local demand and export contracts.

Extracting coal seam gas (CSG) and shale gas often uses a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. In addition to concerns about greenhouse gas pollution, unconventional gas is much more costly to develop and use. The development of unconventional gas involves drilling thousands of gas wells, many on prime agricultural land.

Gas field in Tara, Queensland Australia
“Gasfield, Tara, QLD” by Flickr user Lock the Gate Alliance licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s worth noting that Australia’s greenhouse gas reporting only extends to greenhouse gas pollution associated with the gas supply chain here in Australia. It does not account for the emissions which ultimately result when all this exported LNG reaches its destination and is burned.

Limiting global temperature rise requires that the use of all fossil fuels, including gas, is rapidly phased out. For a reasonable chance of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C, more than 70% of Australia’s existing conventional reserves of gas must stay in the ground. Development of new unconventional gas is entirely out of step with action on climate change.

For more information, read the Climate Council’s Pollution and Price: The Cost of Investing in Gas