Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading
This bill's title, the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, explains an awful lot. This bill is all about enabling approval for engineering activities that will help reduce the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This bill implements Australia's international obligations under the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, commonly known as the London protocol. There were two amendments to it, changing article 6 in 2009, which meant it would enable the export of carbon dioxide streams from one of the parties to the convention to another country for the sole purpose of sequestering that captured carbon dioxide in sub-seabed geological formations, commonly known as carbon capture and storage. The purpose of this bill is to give effect to our international obligations arising out of the amendments done in 2009 and 2013 to the London protocol. We in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water have just done an inquiry into whether we should ratify those amendments to the protocol and we've decided, yes. A Senate inquiry that it was referred to has done the same thing.
The amendments in this bill will allow a permit to be granted for the export of carbon dioxide streams or carbon capture use and storage to sequester it into sub-seabed geological formations in accordance with that protocol. Separately, it will allow the minister to approve carbon capture and storage to cross international borders so that we can accept captured carbon dioxide and store it in geological reservoirs. Likewise, we can export it.
There is a country near and dear to us, Timor-Leste, that has a sub-seabed geological formation which can take millions of tonnes of captured CO2 every year. It's not going into a little empty vacuum, which most people think it is, which, like a balloon, will slowly deflate and have it all come bubbling out. It's going into a geological formation that looks like a rock but is like sandstone. You put it in under pressure. It binds with the minerals there, and it's permanent. It doesn't just stay there with the hope that the bubble doesn't burst and it all bubbles up again. It's really quite difficult and hard to do.
The second thing is that it will allow geoengineering, but only under certain circumstances—it's being analysed; it's academic, and they're seeing if it works. I'll elaborate a bit more about that, but it's basically fertilising the sea and, in near-coastal environments, getting the right seabed grasses and everything growing so that the ocean captures more CO2. There are some subsequent minor consequential amendments and technical amendments as well.
But, for people in this chamber and those listening on the radio as they're driving home back up to Wauchope or Port Macquarie or down to Newcastle: carbon capture and storage, contrary to what is popularly put out, is a newer technology with commercial-scale projects operating around the globe. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is defined by both the august organisation called the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, as an essential tool to meet emissions targets and climate goals.
Even with full electrification, utilising new clean technologies which are even cleaner than renewables, called nuclear energy, you can decarbonise a lot of industrial processes with the industrial heat that goes up to 1,200 degrees Centigrade that you can get out of a nuclear power plant, as well as running steam turbines with five grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt generated out of nuclear energy. But if you add carbon capture and storage to your suite of measures to try and abate the CO2—some industrial processes still require gas and coal; otherwise, they don't happen. There are some things that can't be abated by electrification. But this will allow us to do millions of tonnes out of essential fossil fuel feed stocks and abate things.
To put things in a historical context, this started in the mid-1990s. It's not experimental. And they have been watching for that eventuality that I mentioned—people, at first reading, thought: 'Oh, jeez. Well, that's just delaying the inevitable. It'll just deflate and go back up and away you go. You're back to square one.' But they've been watching for that since 2000 and before, and there haven't been any incidents of it. Potentially, it could happen. Some of the pipes and the piping, when you're pushing it down under pressure, could do that. But, everywhere that it's been done, they've been watching for it, and there's no significant evidence of that.
Globally, there are 35 commercial carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects that capture nearly 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Equivalently, if you were going to try and do it by revegetating productive agricultural land and turn it into eucalypt forests, you'd need to plant two billion trees every year. You'd have to cover the country in trees. In the International Energy Agency's net zero scenario, 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 needs to be stored regularly. So, if we're going to not utilise this technology, we are crazy.
How can we help Australia provide energy and food for hundreds of millions, or, on an energy scale, billions of people? Our coal and natural gas have lifted billions of people out of poverty by providing them affordable, available electricity. But with this technology and Australia's potential sub-seabed and on-land geological formations we can pump captured CO2 out of industrial processes, like cement making and running gas and oil plants—all those things that the world still depends on. We can mitigate this. We have experience and we have really good regulation in this country; in fact, Australia often has too much regulation. In this case we have existing experience with the Gorgon project and the Bayu-Undan project in Timor-Leste. Once we've signed off on this we will have the legal framework to allow them to store millions of tonnes of CO2 for years to come. We'll also help that country get income out of the royalties from that.
We will become like Norway, which is at the leading edge of sub-seabed storage with its Longship Northern Lights project. They already are accepting captured CO2 not just for Norwegian fields but from all around Europe. Geoscience is at the cutting edge of all this evaluation, and that is another hidden gem of technology that we have in this country.
We also have all the legislation and regulation with NOPSEMA, the other bills and the EPBC Act, so this won't be happening willy-nilly.
The last thing I want to mention is the geoengineering part of what will be facilitated, with the powers deemed available for the minister to certify geoengineering. We have adopted the precautionary principle, but we reckon agreeing with the London protocol's amendment to article 6, with these laws now creating a legal framework to put it into, will allow geoengineering to be taken up in baby steps, in small, well-analysed and well-regulated projects. It involves a range of technologies that will allow a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. It involves ocean fertilisation, coastal carbon sequestration and a geoengineering technique that is totally different from CCUS or CCS. It refers to enhancement of blue carbon stocks in coastal and marine ecosystems, notably by the cultivation of macroalgae and microalgae in coastal mangroves and saltmarsh areas. We have to look at it and analyse it and see that it works, because we don't want to have unintended consequences, so the take-home message is: the geoengineering bit will only be under controlled research conditions.
There are plenty of countries in the world that don't have the sub-seabed or on-land deep geological repositories for this—places like Korea, that we supply with energy, or Japan. We have supplied energy to Japan and let them go through their industrialisation. The first export of energy to Japan from New South Wales was in 1864. We in fact empowered the industrialisation of Japan for over a hundred years. But there are many other neighbours nearby who depend on us; otherwise their society would crumble.
They wouldn't be able to survive. But with this London protocol amendment, it will allow them to do their carbon capture and storage, stick it in a boat, send it over and store it forever, in a one-way street fashion, 500 metres, 600 metres or a kilometre or two underground and permanently store it in porous rock formations, which have micro areas that the high-pressure product can go into and fix into the mineral base. Carbon capture, use and storage isn't marine geoengineering. That's a separate thing altogether.
This bill will put the legislation in place so that both those techniques can be done for the benefit of Korea, Singapore, Japan and all those places that don't have that geology. We're blessed in many ways and a lot of it is because we have provided them energy. In a way, it's quite fitting that we are managing the disposal of it.
I commend this bill to the House and I let everyone know that it's been analysed extensively, it's not experimental, it has huge commercial potential for all the countries that access it and it will be beneficial. If you're concerned about climate change, you should be advocating for carbon capture and storage.