“Once the transition to renewables is complete, by around 2040, there is no additional emissions reduction benefit from increased gas supply,” the report found. “In the context of the scenarios examined in this report, gas remains a transitional fuel but perhaps not precisely in the way it was initially envisaged.
“Gas can assist GHG [greenhouse gas] mitigation during the period when carbon prices or equivalent signals are strong enough to force high renewable electricity generation shares. Until the carbon price reaches that level their impact on emissions reduction is either negative or neutral.
“After renewables have reached a high share, additional gas supply has nothing further to contribute to emissions reduction,” it found.
The CSIRO found in countries such as India, which has constraints on the amount of renewable energy it can develop domestically, increasing gas would prolong coal-fired power and delay the construction of higher cost renewables, such as offshore wind, combining to increase emissions.
Despite the CSIRO’s findings, Woodside continued to claim gas produced from the Scarborough project would reduce global emissions by replacing thermal coal in Asian markets in public statements and official regulatory applications.
“Scarborough gas is expected to displace more emissions intensive fossil fuels such as oil and coal and subsequently support an overall reduction in net atmospheric GHG concentration,” Woodside’s 2020 environmental approval application for Scarborough stated.
In 2020, Woodside published a separate report by London-based consulting firm ERM on the same topic. This report concluded Woodside’s two proposed projects, Scarborough and Browse, “could reduce global CO2 emissions by over 650 million tonnes by 2040; improve air quality in customer markets; and reduce global emissions by 4 tonnes of GHG for every tonne emitted in Australia”.
A spokeswoman for Woodside said the CSIRO report was part of a number of inputs to the company’s climate policy. The latest policy, released in February, included a $5 billion investment target for “new energy products” and detailed emissions reductions achieved to date.
A CSIRO spokeswoman said the report had gone through a thorough peer review process. “’Modelling the emission impact of additional LNG in Asia’ was conducted by CSIRO’s Energy Business Unit, whose world-leading scientists are pioneering low-emissions technologies and conducting research to help guide Australia towards a smart, secure energy future.”
Woodside commissioned the CSIRO to produce other reports during the same period on carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, both of which were made public. When asked why some reports were released and others were not, a CSIRO spokeswoman said: “This is a matter for Woodside.”
Sources, who could not be named because they were discussing sensitive information, claim Woodside shelved the report because the CSIRO did not confirm the ASX-listed company’s hypothesis.
“Woodside engaged the CSIRO to answer the question – what happens when you put more gas into the market? Do emissions go up or down? There was no conclusive answer. It’s not like it proved Woodside’s answer.”
The Scarborough project has been met with fierce opposition from environmentalists after the International Energy Agency declared last year there can be no new fossil fuel projects if net zero emissions by 2050 targets are to be met to slow climate change.
The project has now been approved after a last ditch court action launched by the Conservation Council of WA failed this month.
Following the short outcome, WA Premier Mark McGowan repeated the Asian emissions reduction claim. “Obviously gas exports can supplant coal and that actually reduces carbon emissions in countries like Japan and China and India,” he told media at the time.
This has also been used by the industry’s major lobby group for expanding gas production as well as the federal government as a key justification for its gas-led recovery push, which seeks to subsidize infrastructure and research to scale up Australia’s domestic gas production.
A spokesman for Energy Minister Angus Taylor pointed to departmental research that “estimates that Australia’s exports of 77.7 million tonnes of LNG in financial year 2020-21 has the potential to reduce global emissions by 165 million tonnes by displacing more emissions-intensive forms of electricity generation ”.
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