The Conversation: The Beetaloo gas field is a climate bomb. How did CSIRO modelling make it look otherwise?

October 31, 2023 10:53 AM

The NT government green-lit fracking based on a CSIRO report. Analysis claims it 'systematically underestimated' emissions.

Even as Australia braces for a summer of projected extreme heatwaves and bushfires amid the intensifying climate crisis, the fossil gas industry is gearing up for a truly enormous new fracking project in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin.

In February, a CSIRO-backed report was published, stating Beetaloo could be developed without adding to Australia’s net emissions. In May, the Northern Territory government gave the green light to the project, citing the report as evidence emissions could be “mitigated, reduced or in some cases eliminated”.

This report is important. It was produced by CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance in response to a key recommendation from the NT’s Pepper Inquiry into fracking. That recommendation? Territory and federal governments should “seek to ensure” no net increase in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Australia from fracking in the NT.

How could it find a massive new fossil fuel field won’t add to emissions? Our forensic analysis of the report found it made the most optimistic assumptions about emissions at every stage, and placed far too much faith in Australia’s ability to offset emissions.

Remind me – how big is Beetaloo?

Big. The fossil fuel basin 500 kilometres south of Darwin is bigger than any current gas project on Western Australia’s North-West Shelf.

We estimate 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be emitted over 25 years to 2050 – a figure 45% higher than in the report.

Our analysis shows annual domestic emissions from fracking in the Beetaloo and processing at Darwin’s Middle Arm industrial precinct would produce up to 49 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, 11% of Australia’s total emissions in 2021. That means a single project would produce more emissions than the entire reduction goal under Labor’s revised safeguard mechanism.

Our deep dive into the CSIRO report found its cumulative domestic emissions projections are underestimates of up to 84% in some cases. Emissions are underestimated at almost every stage, from how emissions-intensive fracked gas is to how much methane is lost to the atmosphere and how much is emitted in manufacturing LNG. We have submitted our report to the Senate Inquiry into Middle Arm.

The report also underestimates upstream emissions – emissions created by actually fracking the gas and transporting it to Darwin – by up to 110%, and emissions from turning gas into LNG at the plant by up to 89%.

Read the full story here.