Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gas reserves give us enough rope to hang ourselves

Like many other countries, Australia is in the thrall of gas. The Australian government identified gas as a stepping stone on the path to decarbonising our economy when it was believed that replacing coal generators with gas would be an effective interim measure in decarbonising our economy.

This position comes from politicians practising the art of the possible and throwing the fossil fuel industry a bone.
OK boys, we can't have as much coal, but, look!, we'll have gas instead.
It's a clever move because it pits one fossil fuel (coal) against another (gas). That makes it one set of guys in hard hats against another, which is much better than pitting the hard hats against the beanie-capped renewable brigade, or the Knitting Nannas, who can call upon moral principles that are more powerful than crude commercial arguments.

The art of the possible is modest. It lacks ambition and is hobbled by caution. It won't rouse us to the national effort that is needed for the energy revolution that lies ahead. So it is entirely deserving that the 'gas as transition' strategy has come unstuck in all kinds of ways.

The deep unpopularity of coal seam gas projects in local communities has unleashed a groundswell of local action expressed powerfully in the Lock the Gate campaign.

Another major problem with the 'gas as transition' idea is that emerging evidence shows that gas won't cut the mustard when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

As the International Energy Agency says,
The high gas scenario shows carbon emissions consistent with a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°C. A path towards 2°C would still require a greater shift to low-carbon energy sources, increased energy efficiency and deployment of new technologies including carbon capture and storage (CCS), which could reduce emissions from gas-fired plants.
If coal generators are replaced by gas generators that endure for 30-40 years, they will be emitting carbon dioxide for decades to come. This won't meet the timetable required to keep average global temperatures below the 2°C guardrail for a safe climate.

Yet another difficulty is the emerging data that gas is no cleaner than coal when things like fugitive emissions are taken into account.

No wonder that the hard-nosed Jeremy Grantham, former chairman and chief investment strategist for the $100 billion funds manager GMO Capital, recognises additional gas reserves as a trojan horse - beguiling but dangerous.
The major disadvantage of all of these extra (oil and gas) reserves, though, is that they will give us more rope with which to hang ourselves by frying the planet.

If we are to prevent dangerous global warming and keep the planet within the 2°C guardrail for a safe climate, 80% of gas, coal and oil reserves will need to be left alone. They will be stranded assets unless/until carbon capture and sequestration becomes commercially viable.

What to do?

Be informed. Have a questionning mind. Support the Lock the Gate campaign and the 100% Renewables campaign.


  1. I agree, thank god for gas. It is plentiful, it is ubiquitous, it will become so cheap that everyone will on earth will use it. It will help us live the lives we want, it will help drag the world's impoverished out of their cycle of poverty and it will save the planet at the same time. I love natural gas.


  2. You miss the point, Klem. Gas may be plentiful, but it can't be used because the CO2 emissions are polluting the atmosphere and contributing to dangerous climate change.

    Poor nations will be lifted out of poverty through the energy revolution where renewables are replacing fossil fuels.

    1. Yes this will happen, in a century or two. Until then, natural gas will be king. With so much natural gas available now and with so much more yet to be discovered, I think we have only seen the fossil fuel industry in its infancy up to now.



    2. Klem, that is a view proposed by those who ignore the fact the planet is warming and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are driving the change.

      With only 0.7C average temperature increase over pre-industrial levels we already see a huge increase in extreme weather events. Most countries have begun the transition away from fossil fuels. When the next 0.7C increase bites, countries will dump fossil fuels even faster, and there will be tears before bedtime for the companies sitting on stranded assets that can't be used.

  3. Poor Klem. No idea.

  4. "With only 0.7C average temperature increase over pre-industrial levels .."

    Seven tenths of one degree Celsius. Ever wonder how they arrived at pre-industrial global temperature records accurate to a tenth of a degree? Thermometers in the 16th century were not very accurate, and they weren’t global. Most of the temperature records you refer to were derived from tree rings and swamp sludge taken from a few locations, again not accurate and hardly global. Just how they arrive at ancient temperatures to a tenth of a degree from tree rings and swamp sludge resides in the realm of witchcraft science in my view. Yet you accept the results like they are carved in stone. Wow. Lol!

    True accurate global temperature records go back to 1979 through the use of satellites.



    1. Klem, I sympathise with your inability to understand how the measurements are calculated from ice and mud deposits. It is complex. However, it is a widely respected and validated area of science that withstands expert scrutiny and peer review. And it is just one of many lines of evidence that show the planet is warming.

      The facts of global warming, the impact on climate and the role of CO2 in causing it, are accepted by every national science institute on the planet.

      I want government action based on mainstream science. I want this in the area of health, transport, education, construction, etc, as well as in the area of environment and climate. No different.