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Gas lobby’s charm offensive is hiding a few inconvenient truths

Note: Following the publication of an opinion piece by Samantha McCulloch, chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (West Australian, Friday 9 June 2023), the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) offered the following response for publication to the West Australian. The West Australian declined to publish CCWA's response.

That response has been published here in its entirety.

By Maggie Wood, Programs Director - Conservation Council of WA

What would Australia look like without ‘natural gas’? That was the question posed by Samantha McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association – otherwise known as APPEA – in Friday’s West Australian.

For context, APPEA is to oil and gas what the Altria Group is to tobacco - it is a lobby group which represents companies involved in the production and sale of fossil fuels. So, it will come as no surprise to anyone that Ms McCulloch considers gas to be an indispensable part of the Australian way of life – or at least the superficial caricature of Australian life that she appealed to in her column.

But while APPEA wants us to all lose our minds over an imaginary threat to the backyard barbeque, it is quietly and carefully using its considerable wealth and political power to keep Australia hooked on a highly polluting fossil fuel.

To be clear: gas –methane – is a fossil fuel and it is pushing our climate ever closer to a tipping point which will have very serious ramifications for us all.

The number of assertions in McCulloch’s piece which either gloss over or omit important information is staggering. At a fundamental level, the suggestion that producing more gas helps with a transition to renewables is nonsense. The idea that we can move away from fossil fuels by building more fossil fuel infrastructure is laughable.

She also dramatically overstates the importance of the gas industry to our economy. It is the smallest employer by sector, producing fewer jobs per dollar of investment than any other industry. Recent statistics show that oil and gas makes up only 0.2 per cent of the Australian workforce. Gas’ real contribution to the Australian economy is minuscule as the profits primarily flow directly to overseas shareholders.

Equally, there is simply no credible argument to be had about gas’ role in Australian energy security - particularly here in WA. ‘More gas’ does not directly translate to more energy for our homes and businesses. In fact, the vast majority of the gas produced by companies like Woodside, Chevron and Santos is loaded onto a ship and sold overseas to the highest bidder for a higher price than might be available on the domestic market. Recent panics about a lack of supply here in Australia are entirely artificial and created by the fossil fuel industry’s ‘export first’ business model – not because there isn’t enough gas to meet energy needs. If the annual exports of gas were used domestically, there would be a dramatic oversupply here in Australia.

The very fact that the fossil fuel industry allowed energy prices to skyrocket, despite the fact that gas producers were making record profits from exports, should be every indication we can’t trust them – or their polluting products – to fulfil our energy needs.

The solution is staring us in the face. It is cheaper, it is greener, and it won’t cost the Australian taxpayer $57.1 billion in fossil fuel subsidies (as revealed by the Australia Institute in May, this year). The roll-out of large-scale renewable energy in one of the sunniest, windiest places in the world is an open goal for Western Australia. Paired with cutting edge battery storage technology, we could build a home-grown reliable and affordable energy network which isn’t subject to the export-first business model of the fossil fuel industry.

If this isn’t reason enough to discredit APPEA’s latest public relations exercise, the warnings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be. Since 1988, when the IPCC was first formed, there have been six reports which have become more comprehensive, complex and alarming in their findings. However, despite the IPCC’s warnings, global emissions have continued to climb, driven primarily by the continued burning of fossil fuels, including gas.

The latest report, published in March is almost certainly the last to be published at a time when the world still has a chance of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This is the threshold beyond which damage to the climate will rapidly become irreversible. That means more bushfires, more floods, more droughts and an increasingly hostile and uninhabitable planet.

In the words of UN secretary general, António Guterres: “Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

That APPEA has chosen this moment, against this backdrop, to try and spruik its expensive, highly polluting gas is distasteful and wrong. 

Maggie Wood is the Programs Director at the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA).




MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing nearly 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.  

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CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies

0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]

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