August 13 - 19, 2023: Issue 594


local doctors march on canberra to warn against Beetaloo Basin fracking, Middle Arm: 'dump it in the sea' bill passed by albanese government the day before garma 2023 'facilitates expansion of fossil fuels' - endangers tiwi sacred sea country

Tiwi Islanders at Canberra on Tuesday, August 8 2023. Photo: Dr. Scamps, Mackellar MP, via Facebook

Duty of Care 

On Tuesday August 8 2023 Doctors gathered in Canberra to urge PM Anthony Albanese and his Government to stop fracking in the NT’s Beetaloo Basin by withdrawing funding that will allow the Middle Arm precinct to process the gas, as the project risks the health of all Australians.

The healthcare professionals were supported by climate organisations, young people and First Nations delegates.

Dr Kate Wylie, GP and Executive Director of Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) joined the day of action alongside paediatricians, GPs, and nurses. GPs and Co-Chairs of NT DEA, Dr Brooke Ah Shay and Dr Rosalie Schultz, also added their support to medical colleagues.

Dr Wylie said in a statement, “Opening up Beetaloo to fracking poses a serious health threat to everyone and should alarm doctors and all other health professionals.

“The vast gas field in the Beetaloo Basin would add annual greenhouse emissions equivalent to 117 million tonnes of CO2, approximately 22 percent of Australia’s current annual total. 

“We’re already seeing the dire consequences of escalating climate change. In Australia, we saw two national disasters in the 2019–2020 bushfires and the 2021–2022 flooding, while Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has announced an El Niño event is “likely in the coming weeks”. Across the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, North America, and China last month, hundreds of millions of people suffered extreme heat waves, floods and fires.

“What will it take for our leaders to listen to the repeated warnings from the experts about the threat of climate change- the greatest threat to health?

“The UN Secretary-General has warned we’re in an era of ‘global boiling’, and the International Energy Agency (IEA), the IPCC, and scientists globally have warned that we cannot afford new fossil fuel projects.

“If Beetaloo and Middle Arm projects go ahead, they are going to add a further load to an already overloaded health system. Australia does not need further fossil fuel extraction, as we have plentiful renewable resources.

“As doctors we have a duty of care to the health of the community and urge the PM and his government to also put the health of Australians front and centre.”

Dr Brooke Ah Shay said, “As a GP who lives in the Northern Territory and has spent several years living and working in a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land, I am angered by the government’s failure to listen to the voices of the Traditional Owners opposed to fracking on their Country, as well as their failure to consider the numerous health risks.

“Fracking pollutes the air, water and soil of nearby communities with numerous chemical contaminants and is associated with an increased risk of many serious health problems, including asthma, heart disease, and leukaemia.”

Dr Rosalie Schultz stated, “It was disappointing to hear our Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, whose party was elected because of opposition to fracking, is now so out of touch with the community. Gas is not a transition fuel but fuelling climate catastrophe. Support from colleagues interstate recognises that climate change – global heating – extends far beyond NT’s borders. We need sustainable development that will sustain human wellbeing, biodiversity and justice.”

Research from the Australia Institute has found that the lifecycle emissions resulting from Tamboran Resources’ proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) processing and export facility in the Northern Territory (NT) would be equivalent to 12 coal-fired power stations every year when operating at full capacity. The report states the facility, which will be based at the Middle Arm “Sustainable Development Precinct” and use gas from the NT’s Beetaloo Basin, would result in domestic emissions equivalent to three coal-fired power stations every year.

The report comes as the NT Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles, told the National Press Club in recent days that gas was a reliable energy source on the pathway to transitioning from coal and oil. However, the Australia Institute’s report notes that Tamboran is not targeting its first LNG production until 2030.

“The misinformation from government and industry surrounding the Beetaloo Basin is alarming. Tamboran resources claimed that gas production in the Beetaloo will be the ‘single largest emissions reduction project in Australia’. This is just not true. It is physically not possible to reduce emissions while increasing emissions” said Polly Hemming, Director – Climate & Energy Program at the Australia Institute.

“The pilot stage of the NTLNG project alone would result in almost 7 million tonnes of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions per year in Australia. That’s like building a new coal-fired power station in the NT. Once the project reaches full capacity it will be like building another two coal-fired power stations in the NT.

“Contrary to announcements by the NT and federal governments, fracking the Beetaloo Basin will deliver little in economic growth apart from an increase in multi‑national mining profits, with limited benefits for the wider community. What the Beetaloo gas development will deliver is an enormous increase in emissions, and further concentration of the NT economy into a single industry.”

Federal Government passes its' Dump it in the Sea Bill

Mackellar MP Dr. Sophie Scamps along with Warringah MP Zali Steggall attended the Doctors for the Environment protest, which was held just a week after they voiced their support for Senator David Pocock’s Duty of Care and Intergenerational Equity Bill and soon after the Independent MP's spoke out against the Federal Government's Sea Dumping Bill, labelling it 'greenwashing'.

This Bill amends the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 to allow for the international export of carbon dioxide (CO2) for the purposes of carbon capture and storage (CCS). It also enables permits to be granted for the placement of waste or other matter for a marine geoengineering activity for the purposes of scientific research.

As it stands, and for the foreseeable future, CCS does not offer a solution to the enormous contributions of the fossil fuel industry to climate change and may risk the achievement of Australia’s international obligations relating to climate change.

Additionally, geoengineering raises extensive regulatory, scientific, and ethical questions which have not been adequately resolved at the domestic or international level.

Further, both these policy choices actually facilitate the continued production and use of fossil fuels. 

Which would not be obvious when reading its title ''Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023''.

Five crossbench MPs, Helen Haines, Kylea Tink, Allegra Spender, Zali Steggall and Sophie Scamps tabled proposed amendments.

Mackellar MP Dr. Scamps said in a statement, ''The government’s Sea Dumping Bill is a colossal attempt at greenwashing. If passed in its current form, the Sea Dumping Bill would create a pathway for new gas mines to proceed.

''This Bill would give Australia the ability to both import and export carbon dioxide for sequestration under the seabed. This carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is monstrously expensive and does not work anywhere near the degree promised by industry. Chevron’s Gorgon CCS facility off the coast of Western Australia, the largest in the world, is well known to be a monumental and incredibly costly failure.

''The Sea Dumping Bill is being rushed through Parliament in an attempt by the Government to enable new gas projects, such as the Barossa mine, to proceed. If developed, the Barossa project will likely be the most polluting gas mine in the world, because of its enormous size and the very high CO2 content of its gas.

''Of course, any capture and storage of this carbon, even if it worked, does nothing to address the vast majority – up to 90% – of emissions that occur when the gas is burnt for fuel.''

''Yet, with this Bill, Santos’ Barossa and other gas mines will be given the green light to go ahead. This, after being repeatedly warned that there must be no new fossil fuel mines if we are to have any chance of maintaining a liveable planet.'' Dr Scamp said

''I am proposing a number of amendments to the Sea Dumping Bill. Firstly, an amendment which would prohibit CCS being used to store carbon from fossil fuel mines, because this would enable new gas mines to open and prolong the lives of existing ones. This technology may have a place in addressing emissions from hard-to-abate industries such as cement or green aluminium. Further, my amendments would prohibit public money being spent on CCS for fossil fuel mines.

I am also proposing a series of amendments which would improve environmental protections for all CCS projects, and impose both liability and heavy penalties on the operating companies in the event that anything were to go wrong, which as Gorgon has shown us, it surely will. I have urged the government to accept these very sensible amendments.''

''If the government is serious about tackling climate change, phasing out fossil fuels and protecting the marine environment, they must withdraw or significantly improve this dangerous Bill.''

Warringah MP Zali Steggall said The Government’s Sea Dumping Bill requires more than a greenwashing title to fight climate change.

On August 3rd Zali Steggall MP, with members of the crossbench, proposed a number of amendments and subsequently voted against the Government’s Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023.

''Despite the Minister’s claims as to the purpose and need for this legislation, the legislation as drafted fails to ensure climate positive outcomes and adequate protections such as the precautionary measures included in the Treaty.'' Ms Steggall said 

''The truth is that atmospheric carbon dioxide already far exceeds safe levels for human civilisation.  We have a huge role ahead of us in removing greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere in order to avoid the worst-case scenarios of global warming.

''There is a role to play for carbon drawdown to ensure a safe and sustainable climate. But draw down technologies such as carbon capture and storage must not be used to justify further approvals or expansions of fossil fuel projects.

''As currently drafted, this Bill opens the door for gas companies to expand fracking and extraction with the increased emissions offset by the false promise of carbon capture and storage.

''While it is not surprising to see the Coalition support this legislation, it is telling that so many Labor MPs, avowed supporters of climate action, fail to stand up today and demand better legislation of their government.  

At a time of record global warming, we must accelerate emissions reduction. Today, Labor and the Coalition voted together for fossil fuel expansion. Labour is facilitating the gas industry's greenwashing to get social licence for new planet boiling projects.'' the MP for Warringah stated.

The 54 members of the Australian Labor Party who voted that the Bill be agreed to included the Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Greens spokesperson for healthy oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the Bill appeared to be motivated to enable the Santos Barossa project.

The Santos Barossa project is a plan to develop the Barossa gas field in pristine waters north of the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. Should the Barossa gas be extracted, developed and burned, it would release 15.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The project would also put pristine marine life at grave risk. The pipeline connecting the Barossa gas field to land would run through a protected marine park and along the entire length of one of the Tiwi Islands – Bathurst Island. 

The construction of the pipeline poses a major threat to turtle hatchlings and nesting beaches, involves extensive seabed disturbance, dredging, increased shipping and helicopter movements over the islands and significant noise and light pollution.

The Tiwi Islanders have not been consulted about the Santos Barossa project in their sacred Sea Country, despite it having been around since 2004. Alike the Northern Territory First Nations peoples, they have been ignored.

Interestingly, Garma 2023 commenced the day after the federal Labor Party passed this Bill. The 23rd annual Garma Festival took place from Friday, 4 August to Monday, 7 August 2023 at Gove in the NT. 

The Gove Peninsula is at the northeastern corner of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. The Yolngu people, the traditional owners of Arnhem Land (which includes the Gove Peninsula), had petitioned the Australian House of Representatives in August 1963 with a bark petition after the government had sold part of the Arnhem Land reserve on 13 March of that year to a bauxite mining company, Nabalco without consultation with the traditional owners at the time. Nabalco was a mining and extraction company set up in 1964 to exploit bauxite reserves (the most common ore of aluminium) on the Gove Peninsula.

This was famously part of the 1971 Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, aka the Gove land rights case, a milestone in the history of Indigenous land rights in Australia. The plaintiffs, elders of various clans of the local Yolngu people, claimed they enjoyed sovereignty over their land, and sought the freedom to occupy their lands. The ruling went against them, as native title in Australia had not yet been recognised, but the principles on which the case were based were overturned in the Mabo case 21 years later.

Today the Land Trust holds about 100,000 square kilometres as Aboriginal freehold land, with the exception of mining leases.

PM The Hon. Anthony Albanese attended and spoke in his August 5th speech about how all visitors, including himself, were ''witnessing the majesty of song and dance and painting that speaks for 65,000 years of love of the land and waters''.

The federal Labor party won government on May 21, 2022, the same date PM Albanese vowed our constitution finally recognising the VOICE of our original custodians would occur under his Ministry... excepting when, and apart from... the past two weeks developments underline. One year and a bit Vs. 65 thousand years - what a difference a day makes.... 

The Australian Financial Review reported on June 30, 'Japan is understood to have formally requested that the Albanese government exclude Santos’ $5.8 billion Barossa gas project in the Timor Sea from Labor’s new emissions policy, fuelled by concerns about the risks it poses to supplies of gas critical to national security.'

And thus the 'Dump it in the Sea Bill'  - and the community's belief that this government, alike its predecessor, has been captured by the fossil fuel companies for the eponymous 30 pieces of silver. 

“This Bill is a naked attempt to facilitate more oil and gas development in our oceans through legitimising carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a commercially viable and effective climate solution. '' Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said

“This is despite evidence identifying CCS as a public relations and delaying tactic for the coal and gas industry to pretend it is doing something other than jeopardising our future on this planet.

“Pumping carbon under the sea from gas rigs or storing it underground just doesn’t stack up. The importing and exporting of carbon dioxide for sub-seabed sequestration risks turning Australia's oceans, and those of our near neighbours, into the dumping grounds for the world's pollution. Meanwhile, the CCS industry has largely been a ploy and a distraction designed to greenwash a dirty industry and delay the inevitable.

“The Greens are incredibly concerned that this legislation appears to be motivated to primarily facilitate the Santos Barossa project, its related Bayu-Undan CCS projects and other fossil fuel projects off Australia's northern coastlines, as well as provide this government and its mates in the fossil fuel cartel political cover to open up new areas of our ocean to fossil fuel exploration.

“The Albanese government should be taking tangible, meaningful steps to fight climate change by ending the expansion of new fossil fuel projects. Instead it has taken the valuable time and energy to draft and bring forward a Bill that appears to be written by the fossil fuel industry, for the fossil fuel industry.''

Fracked gas has one of the highest carbon footprints of all energy types. Per kWh produced, fracked gas emits 490 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a life-cycle basis. It produces lower levels of CO2 than the other two fossil fuels, coal and oil, but still directly contributes to climate change. The process creates vast amounts of wastewater, emits greenhouse gases such as methane, releases toxic air pollutants and generates noise.

Individuals, and groups persist in encouraging the Federal Government to focus instead on ensuring Australia is doing its fair share to ensure a safe climate, and keeping global heating below 1.5C, by phasing out fossil fuels and ensuring a rapid and equitable energy transition.

At the July 30 Net Zero Forum held in the Avalon Recreation Centre Dr. Saul Griffith called for a mobilisation of industry alike that seen in World War II, when whatever was needed was built and rolled out by the hundreds of thousands of machines with everyone single man, woman and child mobilised in the effort to succeed. 

Mr. Griffith's plan doesn't rely on big, not-yet-invented innovations, or enabling the expansion of fossil fuel production. 

However, as yet another Australian Government tables and votes for a Bill to perpetuate and expand fossil fuels, the question now is; Is that possible in the current political 'climate'? 

The passed Bill will now go to the Senate for debate. 

Independent MPs at the Doctors for the Environment Australia protest. Photo: Dr. Scamps, Mackellar MP, via Facebook

Darwin’s ‘sustainable’ Middle Arm project reveals Australia’s huge climate policy gamble

Timothy Neale, Deakin University; Kari Dahlgren, Monash University, and Matthew Kearnes, UNSW Sydney

Protesters rallied at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday, railing against Darwin’s controversial Middle Arm venture which critics say would benefit the gas industry.

The project has been thrust into the headlines of late. Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles drew the ire of critics last week in a speech to the National Press Club where she insisted her government was “not for turning” on the project.

Fyles describes Middle Arm as a “sustainable development precinct”. But that claim is highly questionable. The site is already home to two gas facilities, and more are planned. Meanwhile, the NT is pursuing a goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and has committed to “no net increase” in emissions from fracking. So what’s going on?

It comes down to a new buzz-term in policymaking: “circular economy”. We’ve heard it applied to realms such as plastics and food waste. It’s increasingly being applied to carbon emissions, to describe an imagined scenario where carbon released from one source is used or stored by others to create a “closed loop” system.

But as our new research finds, this path is a massive gamble. Such offsetting relies on projects and technologies that do not yet exist, or are not yet feasible at scale. In effect, the Middle Arm project, and others like it, are grand experiments with our climate.

The ‘circular’ economy

Over the past two decades, international climate policy has increasingly shifted towards a circular model of managing carbon emissions. We’ve seen this happening not just in Australia, but places such as Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Saudi Arabia.

The strategy doesn’t seek to reach net-zero simply by pumping less carbon into the atmosphere – for example, by deploying renewable energy. It also involves activities that remove, capture, store or use carbon, therefore “offsetting” or cancelling out emissions from other sources.

Proponents of the strategy characterise it as a simple matter of inputs (emissions) and outputs (offsets) cancelling each other out. But implementing the model is actually very messy, as our new paper shows.

We analysed how the federal and NT governments have sought to implement circular carbon policies, including through the Middle Arm development.

Due to its existing gas infrastructure and proximity to Darwin, this peninsula has long been the target of grand development plans. In July 2020, the NT government announced it would create an industrial petrochemical precinct there to use gas from the Beetaloo and offshore fields.

The following year, the hub was rebranded as a “sustainable development precinct”. References to “petrochemicals” were abandoned. The NT government now frequently talks up the site’s potential for hydrogen and carbon-capture facilities, and says the precinct will be:

largely powered by renewables, master-planned to achieve a circular economy approach of sustainable and responsible production and will use technology to achieve low-to-zero emissions.

The federal government has committed more than A$1.5 billion to the development.

‘Sustainable’ claims called into question

There are serious doubts over Middle Arm’s environmental credentials.

For example, internal government documents make clear the precinct is “seen as a key enabler” of the gas industry.

One confirmed future tenant will be Tamboran Resources, which plans to frack and drill for gas in the Beetaloo Basin. Tamboran intends to build a gas plant in the precinct. Federal crossbenchers, including Warringah MP Zali Steggall, have questioned why public money is being spent on infrastructure “for a private gas company to make record profits from exports”.

What’s more, low-emissions projects planned for the precinct rely on highly speculative technologies.

A carbon-capture and storage facility has been mooted at the site. Announcing the project in 2021, the NT government called it a “a game-changer”. But it neglected to mention that the project relies on unproven technology and has no timeline or guarantee of delivery.

For examples of this, we need only look to Chevron’s Gorgon gas project in Western Australia. The project was supposed to capture at least 80% of CO₂ from the gas it produces. After a three-year delay, carbon capture and storage began in 2019 but has consistently failed to reach its targets.

Claims that Middle Arm would substantially be powered by renewable energy are also in doubt. The Sun Cable solar project – once billed as the largest solar energy development in the southern hemisphere – was planning a battery at the site. But in 2023 the company went into administration and its future is unclear.

Questions also surround Middle Arm’s two proposed green hydrogen projects. Neither company involved has ever built a green hydrogen facility. One of the companies, Total Eren, intends to use solar energy from a facility that has not yet been assessed let alone approved for construction.

A map of the proposed Middle Arm precinct on Darwin Harbour.
A map of the proposed Middle Arm precinct on Darwin Harbour. Land Development Corporation

Offsets won’t save us, either

As part of its “decarbonisation” plan, the NT is set to grow its carbon offset industries.

And in 2021, the then Coalition government released a climate plan in which more than half the carbon savings would be achieved via carbon offsets, as well as unspecified “technology breakthroughs”.

Carbon offsets are used by polluters to compensate for their emissions. It involves buying “carbon credits” from organisations that have undertaken activities to reduce emissions.

Carbon offsets are contentious because they allow companies to keep pumping out carbon. And ensuring carbon credits represent genuine emissions reduction can be difficult.

We’ve seen this in Australia, where the integrity of certain carbon methods has been questioned. An independent review of the overall scheme concluded it was essentially sound, but critics say key questions remain. Further, there are signs we do not have enough credits to meet market demand.

Looking ahead

The goal of Australian governments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 increasingly relies on gambits such as the Middle Arm precinct and speculative methods for offsetting and burying emissions.

Meanwhile, the world has just experienced its hottest month on record. And in temperate Australia, a hot, dry El Nino summer is approaching.

At a time like this, we must focus on achieving genuine emissions reductions, rather than playing risky games with our climate. The Conversation

Timothy Neale, Senior Research Fellow, Deakin University; Kari Dahlgren, Research Fellow Emerging Technologies Research Lab, Monash University, and Matthew Kearnes, Professor, Environment & Society, School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.