Surprise! CSIRO gas funded research lowballs emissions from Darwin’s Middle Arm petro-port and Beetaloo fracking

by Callum Foote | Oct 31, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

The Government’s science agency – the CSIRO – has been found to severely underestimate the CO2 emissions from the proposed petrochemicals port in Darwin, the so called Middle Arm Sustainable Development Project. Callum Foote reports.

In February this year, government science agency CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA), produced a report on the potential emissions from the Beetaloo Basin project and associated infrastructure.

The Federal and Northern Territory governments have used the report to justify the gas fracking in the Beetaloo Basin south of Darwin and the associated $1.5 billion Middle Arm LNG precinct in Darwin Harbour which is intended to use the Beetaloo gas.

However, an independent analysis of the CSIRO’s Beetaloo Basin report has found that the government science agency drastically underestimated total emissions.

The report found that the Beetaloo project would not increase Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions when accounting for offsets.

Approval granted on false premises

This is an important finding for proponents of the project, as both the federal and NT governments have agreed to implement the recommendations of the 2018 Pepper Inquiry into fracking in the NT. A key recommendation states that there should be no net increase in the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions emitted in Australia from onshore shale gas produced in the NT.

However, the new analysis has found that the Beetaloo fracking project alone would produce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to up to 11% of Australia’s total 2021 emissions, and would generate more emissions than the 2030 reduction goal under the new Safeguard Mechanism regulations.

While the CSIRO GISERA report estimated that nearly half of the offsets needed would have to be sourced internationally, this is not allowed under the new regulations.

The Climate Analytics analyst and report author Thomas Houlie said: “Everywhere we looked, we found the GISERA report had significantly underestimated emissions factors, from the emissions intensity of fracked gas, to methane loss and leakage, LNG production, the availability of offsets and the capture rate for carbon capture:

all of these add up to a rosy picture that simply doesn’t reflect reality.

The producer of the report GISERA is actually an alliance agreement between the four biggest unconventional gas companies in Australia (Australia Pacific LNG, Origin Energy, QGC, and Santos) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This means the CSIRO has been subject to claims of conflicts of interest, a government scientific organisation part funded by the gas lobby.

Gas industry led research

Gas industry executives sit on all the committees overseeing GISERA research projects. The National Research Management Committee (NRMC) which oversees finance and research of all the regional committees, has five gas industry executives amongst its eight members.

Australia Institute expert Mark Ogge has previously called out the apparent conflict of interest with having a gas lobby funded research wing of the CSIRO producing research which the government relies upon for policy outcomes. Ogge said that “there is a substantial body of literature that finds research outcomes are heavily influenced by the corporate funding.”

The gas companies that make up GISERA have billions of dollars at stake depending on whether unconventional gas development is allowed to go ahead.

According to Ogge, whether gas development is permitted is a result of advice given to governments on the social and environmental impacts of onshore gas development.

“It is a clear conflict of interest for the research body that is asked to answer these questions to be funded by the industries that have billions of dollars at stake depending on the results of this research,” says Ogge, “this conflict is compounded by the fact that executives of these companies sit on the research committees that decide which research questions are asked and oversee the research.”

The analysis also covered Tamboran Resources, which recently re-domiciled its parent company in the US and plans to develop a 6.6 million tonnes per annum LNG plant at the Australian taxpayer funded Middle Arm gas precinct.

Gas fracker Tamboran grabs government cash, snubs Senate, scurries off to tax haven

The report found that the project would generate emissions equivalent to 2-3% of Australia’s 2021 emissions this decade alone.

According to report author Houlie, “this figure translates to adding six to eight million new cars to Australia’s roads.”

Cumulatively, over the 25-years life of the project and including exported emissions, Tamboran Resources’ plans to frack the Beetaloo and produce LNG would generate between 0.8 to 3.2 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent.

According to a CSIRO spokesperson “CSIRO scientists have delivered a robust and detailed technical analysis, confirmed through an intensive peer review process, of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with onshore gas production scenarios in the Beetaloo Sub-basin, and important information about realistic mitigation and offset options within the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia. CSIRO stands behind the quality of its research and the integrity of its peer review process.”

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

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