Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading
I rise to register my distress and disgust at this bill and my disappointment in the government which seeks to pass it. The release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to climate change. In signing the Paris Agreement, Australia committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Our purpose in doing so was to contribute as a nation to global efforts to limit the progressive, scientifically documented increase in the average temperature of our planet as it approaches 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Doing so demands urgent action to limit the release of greenhouse gases.
While it is also appropriate to look at the rapid and extensive deployment of mitigation options to offset the activities of those industries where some release of greenhouse gases is at this point inevitable, the first and primary focus of our efforts must be to decrease the extent to which we pollute our planet, not to concentrate on unproven and effortful attempts to claw back the harm that we have inflicted on our lands, our atmosphere and our seas.
The latest synthesis report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed the urgent need for ambitious action to limit global warming. It confirmed, yet again, that this planet has no room for new fossil fuel projects and that significant and immediate cuts to emissions are required this decade if we are to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Just this week, the UN chief has told us that the era of global boiling has arrived and that climate change is here, it's terrifying, and it's just the beginning.
Climate change is already having profound impacts across the globe. Every increment of warming will increase those hazards. Globally, those most affected will almost invariably be those who are least responsible. The hazards to human health include the physical effects of raised temperatures, the emotional trauma caused by extreme weather events and the cumulative effects of the loss of livelihoods, environments and cultures.
The oceans play a central role in regulating the earth's climate. They act as major heat and carbon sinks.
Climate change's impact on the oceans include temperature rise, ocean acidification, sea level rise and the expansion of oxygen minimum zones. These have downstream impacts on ecosystem services such as the provision of livelihoods and foods.
The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 proposes to amend the existing sea dumping act to implement the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol. In short, it seeks to allow the issuing of permits for the export of carbon dioxide streams for the purpose of sequestration into subseabed geological formations. In other words, this bill permits carbon capture and storage under ocean seabeds. It also allows for marine geoengineering activities for the purpose, theoretically, of scientific research. But the impact and effectiveness of that geoengineering research is largely unclear, and its environmental risks are unknown.
Put simply, this bill is a key enabler of the gas industry's plans to significantly expand Australia's engagement with carbon capture and storage in Australia and its import and export of CO2 across international borders. CCS and the global trade of CO2 streams are crucial to the gas industry's global strategy to gain social licence by appearing to act on climate whilst simultaneously opening up new fossil fuel projects against the explicit advice of bodies such as the International Energy Agency and the IPCC. This bill aims to facilitate the greenwashing of fossil fuel expansion plans in Australia.
Let's review what subseabed geological sequestration of carbon dioxide streams would involve. Carbon capture and storage involves capturing, transporting and storing carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes. That CO2 is then transported via a ship and/or a pipeline—there are, of course, further emissions arising from that transport process—to a storage location. It is then injected into and stored within a subseabed geological formation, isolated from the atmosphere. The consequences of this process then have to be verified, monitored and mitigated. The IPCC observed in its 2005 special report on carbon capture and storage:
The widespread application of CCS would depend on technical maturity, costs, overall potential, diffusion and transfer of the technology to developing countries and their capacity to apply the technology, regulatory aspects, environmental issues and public perception.
Almost 20 years later, carbon capture and storage remains an unproven technology which has never achieved target at scale.
Only one CCS project is active in Australia. Chevron's Gorgon carbon capture and storage project on Barrow Island in Western Australia has consistently failed to effectively sequester the required reservoir CO2 generated by the Gorgon LNG project. Gorgon is the latest operating carbon capture and storage project in the world. So far it has cost more than $3 billion, $60 million of which has come from federal government funding. It's currently sequestering about a third of its capacity five years after initiation. It is the biggest and best exemplar worldwide of an ineffective technology. But we have seen similar failures in Norwegian CCS projects as well. There are currently 30 operational CCS projects worldwide. None has demonstrated effect and safety at the scale required for carbon capture and storage to be used at the scale required for this bill.
The Australia Institute has estimated that the combined climate mitigation of all projects underway globally would cumulatively amount to approximately 6.2 million tons of greenhouse gases a year. That's roughly the equivalent of the emissions of one Port Kembla steelworks, or perhaps 0.2 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions each year. Even were it 100 per cent effective, which is far from the case, CCS continues to ignore the 85 per cent to 90 per cent of total emissions from the energy sector which represent scope 3 emissions from oil and gas burned by consumers. At this time, carbon capture and storage have no place in credible pathways to net zero.
Why are we talking now about exporting our carbon dioxide streams? We are doing it to pander to Santos and its plans to establish a carbon capture and storage project in its existing Bayu-Undan gas field.
Santos plans to channel carbon from the offshore Barossa project via the Middle Arm precinct in Darwin Harbour. Other future stores of CO2 for that field include the Beetaloo and Bonaparte basins, the Middle Arm petrochemicals facility, the Verus gas field, and international countries that currently lack CCS facilities, such as Japan, Singapore and Korea.
The unseemly haste with which this bill has been brought to this House appears to reflect the government's desire to assuage the anxiety of Santo and other investors that the Barossa project and other fossil fuel projects off our northern coastline can proceed posthaste, heedless of the potential handbrake effect of the safeguard mechanism. This is despite the absence of approvals and environmental impact statements for Bayu-Undan and for Middle Arm.
This is all without consideration of the direct and indirect environmental and health risks involved. Indirectly, the false proposition of CCS can be used as justification for locking in existing energy structures—that is, the continued and increasing extraction of fossil fuels. There are direct risks associated with transporting carbon dioxide and with potential leaks from undersea or underground stores.
Environmental risks of carbon capture and transport include the unintentional release of carbon dioxide streams into the environment during transport in ships and pipelines and from storage facilities. High carbon dioxide concentration in the air harm people and harm animals. It causes asphyxiation. This is a risk offshore and in onshore hubs, such as Middle Arm, which is adjacent to population centres in Darwin. In a sub-seabed setting, dissolved carbon dioxide acidifies the water. It affects organisms and can cause asphyxiation. Aquatic ecosystems are also threatened by the physical disturbance of drilling and laying pipelines and by seismic events, subsidence, and displacement of aquifers during carbon dioxide injection. Ocean acidity will affect our food systems by adversely affecting marine life. The geomechanical risks associated with carbon capture and storage include abnormal seismic activity, surface uplift and carbon dioxide leakage.
Large-scale shipping of carbon dioxide is a new technology that includes multiple technical and operational challenges. Each of these requires appropriate safety protocols and uses unquantified amounts of energy. Moisture-laden carbon dioxide, such as that transported in carbon capture and storage, is highly corrosive. The loss of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from ships during transport is between three and four per cent per 1,000 kilometres, which means that a loss of 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide load should be expected from export activities between countries such as Japan, Korea, Australia and Timor-Leste.
It is simplistic to think that a long 20-year-old pipeline designed for the transfer of natural gas can be easily retrofitted to a reverse transfer of highly pressurised corrosive carbon dioxide. The various safety and regulatory frameworks involved are not present in this bill. The bill fails to stipulate compliance requirements necessary for the minister to grant a carbon dioxide expert permit. It requires no environmental impact assessments to be undertaken for carbon dioxide import or export or for marine geoengineering. It includes no regulations around the circumstances of carbon dioxide transport. It sets no expectations regarding the regulatory capacity and readiness of destination countries to create and maintain adequate environmental protections.
I also note that both offshore gas projects and carbon capture and storage have implications for the cultural practices of traditional owners on sea country. These implications are also not addressed in this bill. This bill is not situated within a robust regulatory framework that engages and is consistent with the safeguard mechanism, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and other emission reduction legislation. It does not specify which government department will have regulatory responsibility for sub-seabed sequestration if that occurs in Australian waters. It does not clarify who will be responsible and who will have transboundary liability in the event of accidents. It does not stipulate how the export of carbon dioxide will impact our Paris Agreement target compliance and our emissions inventory reporting. In seeking to help fossil fuel companies circumvent the safeguard mechanism and avoid responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions, this bill is inconsistent with the global effort to achieve the Paris Agreement.
Carbon capture and storage is an unproven, costly technology. Promoting it and supporting it by legislation undermines our efforts to decarbonise by giving false credits to a false science, by diverting funding from proven technologies that could reduce emissions and by delaying out transmission to renewables. This bill will be a key enabler of gas expansion. It will grant social licence for new, highly polluting, greenwashed fossil-fuel projects. We must protect our oceans and our aquatic ecosystems from the threats of concentrated, liquefied carbon dioxide. Passage of this bill will kick a toxic carbonated can down the road to our international neighbours. In passing this bill, we would be signalling to the rest of the world our refusal to take responsibility for our own emissions and our willingness to dump them on our neighbours without due consideration of the physical or moral safety of that transfer. I cannot in any conscience commend this bill to the House.