Why Learning About The Gas Industry Broke My Heart And What I’m Doing About It

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I knew relatively little about the gas industry until only a few months ago. On the surface, the industry spin and politician-speak is almost enough to convince many that gas is good. Tragically, nothing could be further from the truth. This has been a gut wrenching blog to research. I now feel strongly opposed to this industry and feel betrayed that our government in Australia can even consider a 'gas led recovery' from Covid-19. But I'm doing something about it, and you can too.

To all those people and communities who have been standing up and fighting these companies for years, I salute you and now I promise to stand with you.

Let's take a quick look at gas

This is how the industry markets their product:

"Gas is an important 'transitionary fuel' as countries around the world look for reliable, affordable, safe and low-carbon alternatives to coal and nuclear, and ways of supporting intermittent renewable energy sources."

This is an outdated and misleading statement as technology in renewables has already surpassed the need for gas. Gas is expensive and is definitely not safe, it is bad for our health, our safe water supply, our food security and our environment. Yet new gas projects are still being approved. An incredible imbalance of power exists between the rights and voices of communities versus big gas companies and the governments they lobby. The injustice of it is painful and glaringly obvious.

Here are 5 important powerful reasons we must say no to gas.

(Psst - if you're writing to your elected representative about gas, these are good points to include!).

1. Gas fuels Climate Change

Gas is a high emitting fossil fuel - plain and simple. There is nothing clean about it. Yes, burning it produces less carbon dioxide than coal but gas is 95% methane.

Methane is a much greater threat to our warming planet as it has 84 times the heat trapping capacity as Co2 over a 20 year period. So claims by the gas industry that it is "less emissions intensive" are just not true. Gas companies conveniently do not account for "fugitive emissions" (leakage which occurs during production and as it is transported through pipelines to your home or business) in their calculations. IEEFA says if just 3% of gas leaked (studies have shown actual leakage is 5 - 10%) then gas is actually worse for climate change than coal. (look at these two sources to hear more about this FLIR camera reveals venting methane in the QLD gas fields! , Unconventional Gas: Methane Leakage and Venting)

Gas has been cleverly marketed as a 'cleaner' transition fuel, but with the huge investment needed in new wells, pipelines and infrastructure, the gas industry itself does not believe it is a 'transition' fuel, in fact, they are planning to extract gas for decades. With under 10 years left to slash our emissions we simply have no room in our carbon budget for gas.

2. It makes bad economic sense

Before Covid 19, the gas industry in Australia was in a whole lot of trouble (as it is also in the USA and around the world). Three major players Santos, Origin and Shell had already started shelving projects and had written off a staggering $19 billion in losses. This was even before the latest crash in gas prices. Similarly in the US this year, 19 oil and gas companies filed for bankruptcy.

Gas executives have welcomed this pandemic as a miraculous opportunity to use public money to fund new gas projects and prop up their failing industry, all under the cover of 'economic recovery', the promise of jobs and 'clean reliable energy'. At a time when communities are struggling with a health and an economic crisis these people are intending to hijack our chance at a real recovery which puts people and planet first.

Gas is expensive. Despite their marketing pitch, this industry is responsible for vastly increasing the cost of electricity in Australia bringing great financial stress to households, manufacturing and small business. Now these very same companies, (who pay very little tax) are recommending billions of taxpayer dollars be spent on new pipelines while also pushing for state bans on coal seam gas to be lifted.

If bad decisions are made, our younger generations will be burdened with long term debt. New gas projects will become stranded assets as the rest of the world sensibly moves to renewables.

3. It is a health hazard

This is true in so many ways. The gas industry has worked hard to convince us (for almost a century) that cooking with gas produces the tastiest food. What they don't say is that everytime you cook you fill your home with pollutants similar to those that come from a car exhaust pipe. Indoor air in homes using gas cookers have been found to be 2 - 5 times dirtier than outside air. Doctors for the Environment tell us that the levels of particulate matter, nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide from using gas can have serious implications on our health, young children being particularly at risk (source: home gas appliances and your health) . There are steps you can take to reduce harm to your family such as ensuring good ventilation and an effective range hood but this is less than ideal.

The gas industry's clever marketing has even crept into Instagram with Influencers being paid huge sums to promote cooking with gas as trendy. Similar to Big Tobacco, these companies give the public false faith in the safety of home appliances.

Wouldn't it be great if instead of approving more gas projects, governments helped communities by providing incentives to upgrade their appliances to safer electric ones? Especially lower income families and renters. We need legislation to ensure all new homes have safe electric heating and cooking and look to phase out gas altogether.

People living in regions close to gas wells (many farmers, rural and indigenous communities)have a much higher risk of respiratory disease, neurological conditions, cancers and birth defects due to the toxic nature of high levels of methane in the air that they breathe and contamination of their drinking water. Many families have suffered terrible health consequences but have been effectively silenced by signing confidentiality agreements.

4. It violates the rights of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Communities

Native Title Law should be strong enough to protect Aboriginal land but it isn't. Gas companies and politicians continue to push projects through despite fierce opposition from Traditional Owners and their communities. Hearing the stories of Indigenous people around the world, particularly in the US, they don't want to exploit their land for the promise of short term jobs.

" Our deserts, springs, plains, and bushland are too precious to risk with dangerous fracking wells. It'll poison groundwater, pollute the air, destroy sacred sites, and change our seasons." - Protect Country, Ban Fracking

Climate change is already impacting First Nations people.Their 'bush tucker' calendar, handed down for thousands of generations is now unreliable due to climbing temperatures and many communities don't have the resources to deal with increasing heat waves, drought and rising water levels.

For gas companies, whose product accelerates climate change, to treat the needs of Indigenous peoples with such disregard is unforgivable.

We must strengthen Indigenous land rights and ensure these communities have control over their own future. It will only be then that these people can really heal from the injustices of the past and look forward to positive change which doesn't exploit their home.

5. Gas extraction trashes the environment

You only have to look at aerial photographs of gas fields to realise that the wells spread like a cancer over the landscape, connected by roads and pipelines with waste stored in toxic ponds and large treatment plants. The industry's reputation for degrading farmland, groundwater, waterways, air quality is well known but it still is allowed to continue unchecked.

Despite what the companies say, drilling for gas is incredibly invasive. After land-clearing, a hole - sometimes up to a kilometer deep - is smashed through layers of rock, straight through the valuable water table down to a coal seam or shale rock where the gas is located. Cement and steel pipe casings are installed to 'protect' the water but there have been many examples of pipes and wells leaking especially over time, poisoning the underground water, creeks and rivers and creating "kill zones".

Unimaginable amounts of water are also used in the process - depleting an already scarce supply and putting farmers, local communities and natural ecosystems under even more pressure.Toxic waste water extracted with gas can be 3 x saltier than seawater and contains other chemicals such as arsenic, lead and benzene, all which threaten to escape and leach into the local environment - sometimes this is prime agricultural land or pristine wilderness areas. Then there is flaring (combustion) of the gas from stacks which produce significant greenhouse gas emissions and pose a real bushfire threat.

The good news is we don't need gas anymore! Renewable energy sources are advanced enough to be used to power manufacturing and 75% of our energy needs right now.

We just need the fossil fuel companies to get out of the way or transition themselves to renewables, as innovative energy company Orsted have done.

The Climate Council's new report is an inspiring read for a future we could create.

What are communities doing to fight gas?

Inspired to protect themselves from fossil fuel companies and soaring electricity prices, local communities are claiming their energy independence, working together to invest in community solar.

In this way the electricity is generated, stored and shared amongst the community making reliable, affordable, clean energy available to everyone and making a life-changing difference to remote, indigenous and low income households.

Enova Community Energy | Australia's first social enterprise energy provider emerged after the historic Bentley Blockade against coal seam gas in 2014. The community wanted to protect their local environment, fight climate change and produce their own clean, affordable electricity with solar and batteries. Here is another community led project happening in Manilla in NSW- Manilla Community Renewable Energy Inc.

How you can get involved

With the Federal Government push to fund more gas projects in the coming months, now is the time to add your voice to stop them.

Narrabri and the Pilliga Forest

This decade-long campaign to stop a new gas field in Narrabri and The Pilliga State Forest has reached crunch time. Only one more approval from the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) is needed before the project gets the green light. The Pilliga is Australia's largest inland eucalypt forest and koala habitat west of the Great Dividing Range. Having just lost 30% of koala habitat in the recent catastrophic bushfires, we need to protect what we have left. This area feeds clean water into the Great Artesian Basin, the crucial life support system for much of inland Australia.

Santos wants to drill 850 wells and build roads, pipelines and other infrastructure through this forest and surrounding farmland. Despite an overwhelming 97% of the community opposed to it, the company and government are continuing to push ahead.

The rights and needs of these communities and all Australians are being completely disrespected and it seems a healthy democracy no longer exists.

The IPC is taking submissions until July 31, 2020. The trick is, these must be in your own words or they won't be counted - yet another rule acting in the interests of the gas companies. This is such an important campaign to get on board with and it doesn't take a lot of time to add your voice and make a difference. Learn more here.

Some more things you can do:

The IPC can stop this (they stopped the Bylong Valley coal mine) - this is our last chance.

We don't need gas, it won't bring down electricity prices or create as many local jobs as cheaper and cleaner renewables.

Don't Frack the Northern Territory

Seed is a grassroots movement led by young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and has grown into a powerful voice for climate justice. They need support to keep fracking for gas out of the beautiful NT. Fracking has been banned in many countries as the risks to human health and the environment are just too high. Seed's vision is for a sustainable future, with strong culture and community, powered by clean energy and preserving their water, food and connection to Country.

Here's how to help stop fracking in the NT:

There are also planned projects going on in:

WA - Vast areas of WA are covered in gas licenses and under threat from fracking including the Kimberley and close to the unique and pristine Ningaloo Reef Regions under threat

SA - The Great Australian Bight is repeatedly under attack as is the limestone coast, see: South Australia - Limestone Coast Gas Fracking

QLD - Western Darling Downs and Galilee Basin. See 'Plan to Grow Queensland' for more information

It is now up to us the people to stand in the way of the gas companies otherwise they will be unstoppable.

Here are more important actions you can take to push for a fossil fuel free future:

And if you can….. Join the local community in person if and when it is needed, as people power works and it is the only weapon we have.

By Mila Kasby

Mila is a veterinarian, a mum of 2 and a relatively new climate activist. She loves travelling to remote wilderness areas and hopes these incredibly beautiful places exist for future generations to enjoy.She thrives on discovering new environmental ideas and innovations from around the world and maintains an optimism that we can meet this challenge and achieve a better, cleaner and fairer planet for all.

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