CSIRO confirms, 50% less greenhouse gas emissions

CSIRO research confirms low emissions from natural gas production in Queensland

A new Australian report has been released by the CSIRO and shows that using natural gas to generate electricity results in up to 50 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions, when compared to the use of thermal coal.

Natural gas is commonly referred to as a “transition fuel” – providing fast-start, reliable electricity generation to support the worldwide transition away from coal-fired generation to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and pumped hydro.

Condabri Central shown at dawn.
Condabri Central gas plant shown at dawn.

The report – Whole of Life Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessment of a Coal Seam Gas to Liquified Natural Gas Project in the Surat Basin, Queensland, Australia – highlights the recent improvements to energy production that technology has made possible.

Ever since the discovery and production of gas resources in north-western Europe in the 1960s, the role of gas in the energy mix for residential heating, power generation and use by heavy industry has increased. Using gas to generate electricity produces reduced greenhouse gases when compared to coal, but the level of reduction has often been questioned.

Outcomes of the CSIRO report

It’s good news for Australia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet our international targets. It also confirms the global emissions reductions that can be achieved where Australian LNG is used, to displace coal-fired power generation, by export customers throughout Asia and China.

Some past assumptions were debunked by these findings – the five-year CSIRO study noted that research in the United States claimed the climate benefits of natural gas replacing coal for electricity generation were lost where emissions from all upstream operations were greater than 3 per cent of total production. Previously. some studies had claimed these emissions could be as high as 17 per cent, which had painted the use of gas as being more emissions intensive than coal.

It’s all in the detail

For the first time, this research conducted by CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance division (GISERA) studied greenhouse gas emissions across the full production cycle, from upstream wells, gas processing infrastructure, gathering and transmission pipelines and the plant where Coal Seam Gas (CSG) is converted into LNG.

Direct or indirect emissions?

Results from the new Queensland research show that greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect sources were 1.4 per cent of total production. These sources are commonly known as Scope 1, direct emissions from CSG production activity such as upstream infrastructure and equipment/vehicles, and Scope 2, indirect emissions from producing CSG and LNG such as grid-powered processing infrastructure – both upstream and downstream.

Separate to greenhouse gas emissions, attention has also focused on what’s known as fugitive emissions, where small amounts of natural gas (methane) are released during the upstream production process.

On this topic, another Queensland CSIRO study “suggested that fugitive methane emissions from upstream gas production infrastructure is less than 0.5 per cent of CSG production.”

The research found that across the Surat Basin region, where Origin operates the Australia Pacific LNG project, natural gas production accounted for 8.4 per cent of total methane emissions compared to 78 per cent from cattle grazing (54 per cent) and feedlots (24 per cent).

Origin’s commitments

For Origin, gas will play a key role in meeting our commitment to halve our direct emissions by 2032 alongside exiting coal-fired generation and increasing investment in renewables.

By next year, we’re targeting for renewables and storage to make up more than 25 per cent of our generation mix.

We’ve committed to an additional 1,200 MW of large scale solar and wind energy since March 2016, delivering enough electricity to power all the homes in Ballarat, Adelaide and Newcastle combined.

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