“Brazenly co-opted”: experts confront CSIRO for gas industry infiltration, greenwashing fossil fuels

by Callum Foote | Feb 15, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

The CSIRO’s recent report detailing carbon credits required to offset gas fracking in the Beetaloo Basin is based on faulty assumptions to suit the gas industry, say experts. Callum Foote reports.

The CSIRO has been criticised in the past for being compromised by gas industry funding. That criticism has just reached new heights as progressive think tank The Australia Institute (TAI) has debunked the credibility of the science agency research and said the research was designed to expand the gas industry.

The report which TAI has questioned details whether the Northern Territory government could offset all the greenhouse gas emissions from fracking the Beetaloo Basin. It was produced within CSIRO’s internal Gas Industry Social and Environment Alliance (GISERA), which receives a third of its funding from the gas industry.

The Australia Institute’s (TAI) acting director of Climate & Energy Program, Polly Hemming, says:

I’m yet to see a more striking example of the way a government science agency has been so brazenly co-opted by government and industry to run an agenda purely designed to facilitate gas expansion.

The “Mitigation and Offsets of Australian Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Onshore Shale Gas in the Northern Territoryreport estimates annual GHG emissions for five scenarios of Beetaloo Basin onshore shale gas production and consumption. The development has been reported as “requiring unproven CCS and/or unapproved international offsets for some scenarios,” according to Steven Spencer, Energy and Climate Senior Analyst Engevity Advisory and former senior Technical Advisor (Electricity) at the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Spencer says:

The Beetaloo Basin GHG emissions would become the largest of any facility in Australia for four out of five of the scenarios.

According to Hemming “Whether you believe offsetting is a legitimate premise, it is clear that the entire concept is not being used as a temporary measure by industry while it decarbonises. It is being used as a way to lock in fossil fuel production.”

Between 39 and 117 mega tonnes, or a billion kilograms, of Co2 will be released every year from fracking the Beetaloo according to federal FOIs.

The Beetaloo development has only been allowed to proceed due to undertakings by the Northern Territory government to offset all emissions from production and onshore combustion of the gas.

NT Government report excerpt

NT Government report excerpt

To do so, the CSIRO’s report suggested that there will be up to 156 million carbon offsets available to the gas industry in the NT every year.

“Even if you accept the premise that this is possible according to physics, to date there have only been 124 million carbon offsets generated in Australia in TOTAL since 2012,” says Hemming. The new stash of credits has been designed to “conveniently and comfortably being able to cover all the emissions from the Beetaloo development” according to Hemming.

Beetaloo, Scarborough, Labor lockstep with Coalition on high emission gas projects

Faulty assumptions

According to Hemmings analysis, this contradicts previous advice from CSIRO saying that offsets were limited and “Unless a Beetaloo gas project can obtain >~10-20% of Australia’s land-based offsets, then overseas offset schemes would be needed to cover 15-30% of annual emissions from onshore shale gas.”

Landbased offsets available

However, CSIRO’s latest report suggests that 60 million offsets from planting trees (equivalent of 3 million ha -assuming optimal growth & no fires) and soil (even though our soils will continue to lose carbon as Australia gets hotter and drier) will be available every year.

The report not only assumes dramatic increases in planting trees, it also assumes that around 50 million hectares of Australia’s rangeland (the ‘outback’) have lost 95% of its vegetation and can be regenerated as a way to offset emissions.

Polly Hemming, TAI

These figures come from another CSIRO report, commissioned by the Climate Change Authority & Clean Energy Regulator.

For Hemmings, “Unlike the technocratic promise of ‘future’ carbon removals from carbon capture and storage, direct air capture and other fantasy technology, carbon offsets offer governments and industry a real-time solution to ‘balancing’ emissions in a spreadsheet and greenwashing fossil fuels.”

The Gas Industry has INFILTRATED the Bureau of Meteorology


Callum Foote was a reporter for Michael West Media for four years.

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