Beetaloo Basin submission

Betaloo Basin fracking Empire Energy
Betaloo Basin fracking. Credit: Empire Energy

Submission: Oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin

From: Peter Campbell

Terms of reference:  Oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo Basin, with particular reference to the Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021, which provides public money for oil and gas corporations. 

While the terms of reference appear to be narrow, “oil and gas exploration” is relevant to a wide range of very serious environmental and climate matters.

The Beetaloo basin would be a massive carbon project – the 117 million tonnes of greenhouse gas from just one field would be equivalent to 22 per cent of Australia’s current annual emissions. 

After initial estimates of emissions associated with Beetaloo, Northern Territory officials later warned the Federal Government that the development could create three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions originally expected. 

In 2019, the former Commonwealth Environment and Energy Department warned that the government’s supposed plans to offset emissions are not realistic.

“Emissions from development of onshore shale gas in the Northern Territory may be difficult to offset and could impact on Australia’s progress in meeting Paris Agreement commitments,” the department warned.

“Developments could eventually lead to life cycle emissions in Australia of 5 to 39 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.” 

The International Energy Agency has confirmed that for the world to meet the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement there can be no new coal, oil and gas projects from 2021 onwards.

Traditional owners within the Beetaloo Basin do not consent to fracking activity on their country. 

Public money should not be used to expand gas exploration anywhere in Australia. 

The government proposes to commit $220 million in new funding to support the Beetaloo development. This includes the $50 million Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program (the focus of this inquiry) which the government is using as an incentive for explorers to drive accelerated exploration in the Beetaloo.  

The government admits that ‘uncertainty in the global energy outlook is affecting green-field gas investment’ and has ‘shifted some companies’ priorities away from exploration’. It is not the government’s role to step in where international uncertainty around gas has necessarily developed as the world looks to decarbonise.

Fossil fuel companies are looking to the government, and ultimately taxpayers, to cover this cost for them (the government is committing $174 million for the Northern Territory Gas Industry Roads Upgrades).

The petroleum and gas industry already receives more in subsidies than it pays in royalties. The big, mostly foreign owned, players in the industry are notorious for paying zero tax despite profiting from exporting billions of dollars’ worth of Australian resources overseas.

There are at least 10 fossil fuel companies involved in expanding the Beetaloo.

The instrument is allegedly designed to help smaller companies with exploration:

  • Empire Gas is a company of Liberal donors.
  • Tamboran has been created to extract money from taxpayers, desecrate country and contribute to the worsening climate crisis.

However, demand for fossil fuels is in decline across the world and investing in new infrastructure today is likely to generate stranded assets.

Expanding gas development will not lower gas prices and will contribute to increased carbon emissions when the world needs to reduce them to restore a safe climate.

Public money should be spent in accordance with international commitments, in line with emissions reduction targets and commitments and in future focussed industries. Investing in gas makes absolutely no sense when renewable energy and storage solutions are expanding at such a rapid pace.

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