Senate debates

Monday, 29 November 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Industry Research and Development (Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program) Instrument 2021; Disallowance

12:34 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to oppose this disallowance, because our nation desperately needs more secure oil and gas supplies. Australia is now far from being self-sufficient in oil production—something that we were only 20 years ago. I think a lot of Australians wouldn't realise, understand or know that just 20 years ago, when September 11 happened, we produced 96 per cent of our raw petroleum needs. We were almost self-sufficient in petroleum production. If the worst happened and our supplies of oil were cut off from the Malacca Strait or elsewhere, we would have been able to produce enough petrol to keep our economy going, defend our nation and make sure people could still be fed and we could transport goods around the country. Those are some pretty important things for any nation that wants to provide for its own people. It is true that we didn't have the refinery capacity to turn that 96 per cent of raw petroleum into a useable product 20 years ago, but it's not very difficult to build a refinery. It can be done very quickly if a crisis emerges. It is very difficult to find a new source of oil or gas, something that I'll come to in a second.

People don't understand in this country why we were self-sufficient, because we don't teach the history of how this oil came about and how we actually developed our nation. We were self-sufficient in oil and gas thanks to the discovery of the Bass Strait, which was one of the world's most productive oil and gas basins just off the coast of Melbourne, just off the coast of Victoria. For 50 years we have produced an enormous amount of oil and gas from that region. Around 20 years ago, that production started to fall, and fall rapidly. That means that today we barely get any oil out of the Bass Strait. We still get some oil, mainly from the North West Shelf, from offshore oil and gas rigs up there, but they are predominantly gas-producing regions, not oil-producing. That's why we don't have the security we had.

How did we develop the Bass Strait? How did we get that going? In the aftermath of World War II, it became clear that Australia did need to become more secure in its own natural resource supplies, particularly of oil and gas. In the 1950s the Menzies government established a subsidy to attract investment in oil and gas into Australia. They established a 50 per cent drilling subsidy so any company could come to Australia at that time and have half of their exploration drilling costs paid for to find oil and gas in this country. There was also a price-support mechanism for domestic oil. All prices were very low in the 1950s, so there wasn't a lot of incentive for people to discover oil and gas in Australia, and the Menzies government paid an additional subsidy for any oil that was produced and consumed from domestic sources. That eventually led to one of our nation's most historic meetings, when an Australian company, the Broken Hill Proprietary company, or BHP, decided they would seek to access this subsidy. They brought out a gentleman called Lewis Weeks, a geologist from the United States, well known to be the world's greatest geologist of his time. He had a meeting in Melbourne with the CEO of BHP, and over lunch the CEO asked Mr Lewis Weeks, 'Where's the best place in Australia to drill for oil?' Without hesitation, apparently, as the story goes, Lewis responded: 'The Bass Strait. You've got to go with the Bass Strait.' The rest is history.

BHP did do that. They weren't a company in petroleum at the time. They cut their teeth in Broken Hill, and later developed most of the nation's steelworks and steel industry—something we should return to as well, a topic for another speech. But in the 1950s and through the 1960s, BHP had a third incarnation as a company and expanded into oil and gas, and they did very well in that industry. We benefited from that for 50 years. We benefited from the foresight of that government. At the time, as I said, there were plentiful supplies of oil. Oil prices were very low in the fifties and sixties, but the decision was made to do that so we could have security. It wasn't necessarily about the economy or jobs or any of these things; it was to provide Australians with security, their most basic need. This is what we should do as a government to defend our country, to continue to supply goods for people. That's why they did it. It was done with foresight, because by the 1970s Middle Eastern countries had formed a cartel called OPEC, that we still live with, and cut off the world's oil supplies or at least constrained them to boost the price.

We, Australia, were not as impacted as many other countries, thanks to the foresight of the Menzies government. Because we were sufficient in petroleum production, we didn't have the line-ups at petrol stations like in the United States. We didn't have the lack of supplies like in Europe. We were self-sufficient and we could provide for our country. We can't do that now. If there a crisis were to occur in the next five to 10 years we could not guarantee to the Australian people that oil supplies would be maintained. We may have to ration them, we may have line-ups at petrol stations, because we do not have the domestic production in this country. It would be great, if a crisis happened, to be able to flick a switch and go and develop these oil and gas reserves in the Beetaloo basin or the Canning Basin—and I'll get to that if I have time—but it takes a long time to do these things.

We have, here, a political party proposing a motion to try and shut down the nascent shale oil and gas industry in this country while knowing almost nothing about the geology, the process or the industry that they're seeking to regulate. The Greens would have to be the most ignorant party in this place when it comes to the oil and gas industry. They have no idea about fracking. They have no idea about how the process works. They don't talk to the oil and gas riggers who are out there doing this stuff, with this wonderful technology, in the United States. They don't know how it works. They hear the words 'fossil fuels' and that's all they need to hear. That's as far as their reading and in-depth analysis goes. It's fossil fuels; therefore, it's bad. That's the naive and ignorant approach being brought into this chamber, and it could cost our country very dearly if they ever get close to the reins of government.

Back in the real world, our food supplies rely on petrol to fuel the trucks, to deliver to us all around the country. Our transport, our ability to get around, relies on adequate access to oil and gas. Our ability to defend ourselves—to run our tanks, submarines and aircraft in our defence forces—relies on adequate supplies of oil and gas. We've exhausted the Bass Strait. Even the oil and gas reserves of the North West Shelf are largely declining. It was great news, last week, to see the Scarborough investment go through, but that's not a particularly oil-rich basin. It will probably be more gas than liquid fuels and, therefore, not that beneficial for the transport and other things required from liquid fuels. But there is a great hope that we can get back to self-sufficiency in oil—if we were to bring the wonderful technology that is shale gas development to Australia.

Part of that technology is this thing called fracking. It shows the Greens' complete ignorance here, because they really don't know that it wasn't fracking that unlocked the shale basins of Texas, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. The oil and gas industry have been fracking—in fact, fracking goes back to the Civil War days. Hydraulic fracturing, which is a technique used today, using water, was developed after World War II and is used in conventional oil and gas basins here in Australia and all around the world. It is not a new thing, but it sounds a bit scary. Engineers aren't the best, sometimes, at coming up with words. They've come up with the word 'fracking' to describe this process. It sounds a bit scary so the Greens latch onto that, but it's been used for decades completely safely. The Greens use oil and gas to get around, to get to and from this building. They are absolute hypocrites, because they only have that oil and gas today thanks to fracking.

The technology that has unlocked the shale reserves of the United States is horizontal drilling. That's the technology that's unlocked it. The Greens don't talk about that, because it doesn't sound particularly scary. All it means is this amazing technology—that these amazing engineers, these amazing men and women who work in the industry, have discovered how to take a drill that can go kilometres under the ground and turn it sideways. It is absolutely unbelievable. It doesn't completely go 90 degrees flat, but it's in the way they curve it around and frack or extract the oil and gas from a horizontal seam. We've always known there's lots of oil and gas in the shales, but, with vertical drilling, you have to drill a lot of wells in the shale to get any oil and gas out of it, which makes it uneconomic. That's why it hasn't happened. But this wonderful technology that has been developed has been applied now in the United States for years; we're getting on for 20 years of this technology. It has helped restore—or had helped restore, I should say, unfortunately—the energy independence of the United States. It has changed the geopolitics of the world, because it has reduced the power and influence of the Middle East and theocratic regimes therein. It has, or had, reduced the power of the authoritarian government in Russia under Vladimir Putin. If we don't extract more oil and gas from Western free and democratic nations, we get held to ransom by these other countries—as you can see now in Europe, where they effectively have to beg Mr Putin to supply them enough gas because they have closed down fracking everywhere. They've closed it down in the UK and in Germany and France. Now they have become slaves to Moscow because of this nonsensical green-driven agenda. So let's not repeat the mistakes of Europe.

We've seen, in the United States, the Biden administration has shut down fracking on federal lands and extensively increased the red tape on the industry. Then, last week, the news came out that the US is no longer energy independent. The US had a short period, in the last five or six years, where it was producing enough oil to supply itself, and now it is back to the net importing stage—a terrible consequence for the free world, because we do not want to be beholden to dictatorial authoritarian regimes, which is what happens when you don't develop your own energy resources.

We have this great opportunity. We have shales here in this country. They could be unlocked. They do exist in the Beetaloo. It's the most promising basin, today, in front of us. So, if this motion passes, we will be closing off that opportunity for our nation—that opportunity to return to energy independence as a country, to return to self-sufficiency.

We have an even bigger potential opportunity with the shale basins of the Canning Basin in Western Australia. According to our experts, our geologists—Geoscience Australia—there are 800 billion barrels of oil in place in the Canning Basin. There are only 1.7 trillion barrels of economically recoverable oil identified in the world. Now, we won't get all those 800 billion barrels back. Geoscience Australia estimate about 40 billion barrels of those 800 billion will be economically recoverable. But that is as big as the shale resources of Texas. It's a huge basin that could unlock enormous opportunity for our country and restore our ability to defend ourselves. We would be mad—mad!—to say no to this right now. It would be a shocking misstep for the future generations of Australians, who may face greater risks and crises than we do.

Now, our shales are very different from those of the United States. Our geological pressures are different from those of the US. We won't just be able to translate what happened in Texas and Louisiana and other places and bring that to the Northern Territory and apply it off the shelf; that won't work. We will have to develop different techniques, because, when you frack here in this country, our fracks, I think, go vertically; in the US, they go horizontally, I think, given the different pressures—I might be getting that around the wrong way. But that will take time. It will take money. It will take investment. And it's very, very high risk for an investor.

This is where we come in, as the government. It has always been the case that governments around the world have helped at the exploration stage of oil and gas, and of mineral resources, too, of copper and iron ore. All of these resources that we have developed in this nation have benefited from governments helping with early-stage drilling to identify the resource, de-risk it and then attract the capital later to produce it on a private basis. And that's what we're doing here: to fund this exploration, to find out more information, to do the science about what is actually under our feet. Of what is under our feet we still have very little knowledge. We are still developing these amazing technologies, like horizontal drilling. It is through this science that we can protect our free country, we can deliver security for Australians and we can deliver jobs for the Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and in Darwin. There's a massive opportunity here in the Northern Territory. Let's not say no to that, because it's the right thing to develop our resources for future Australians.


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