It’s rare that Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest — the richest and most influential mining magnate in the country — lets fly at other sectors of the extractive industry, but he didn’t mince words about the fossil fuel sector in his comments to The Australian Financial Review published yesterday to the rage of fossil fuel interests.
Santos and Woodside were particular targets. “Santos is about to kick off one of the most polluting projects in the world. It needs to be called for what it is. It is an atrocious project, an atrocious project,” Forrest said, before going on to point out “the fossil fuel industry’s cosiness with governments will lead to a perpetuation of that great lie ‘clean coal’ with its next sister great lie ‘clean hydrogen’.”
It’s almost as if Forrest has been reading Crikey, where we’ve been pointing out how fossil fuel companies skew public policy and the lie of clean coal for years.
The fossil fuel companies, gathered in Perth for a conference, hit back at Forrest. Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher claimed that “as far as the Barossa project is concerned we are very proud of the efforts we have made [to limit emissions] … ”
That response is worth considering given the facts about the Barossa field north of Darwin, which Santos is developing in order to keep its ageing Darwin LNG plant operating when gas from the Timor-Leste Bayu-Undan field runs out. It turns out that Forrest is exactly correct about Barossa: it will be one the most polluting gas fields in the world.
Santos admitted as much in documents lodged on its behalf by Conocco-Phillips in 2018. “The native CO2 content of the reservoir gas for the project is a higher proportion when compared to other offshore oil and gas developments in the region,” the documents note.
In fact, at 16-20%, Barossa is twice as carbon-intensive as some other gas fields in the region. It is so carbon-intensive the Darwin LNG plant can’t handle it: some CO2 will need “to be removed offshore prior to delivery into the gas export pipeline to a level that is compatible with the existing … facilities.” That means most of the CO2 will need to be “flared” off on the “Floating Production Storage and Offloading” facility offshore.
This means Barossa will have two massive sources of CO2 emissions: its offshore facility to get the gas into a fit state to be processed at the Darwin LNG facility, then the usual emissions from the latter as the gas is processed into LNG. LNG economist and engineer John Robert did the sums in a paper for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The offshore processing would, on Santos’ own figures, generate 3.38 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, while the Darwin LNG facility produces 2.05 MtCO2pa, so Barossa will generate 5.4 MtCO2pa.
That’s all for an annual output of 3.7 million tonnes of LNG. As Robert noted, “this makes the Barossa to Darwin project ‘a CO2 emissions factory with an LNG by-product’”.
The Barossa field, he shows, will be 9-18 times more polluting than gas fields in the Middle East, Africa and the Atlantic.
Despite Gallagher peddling carbon capture and storage, Barossa will be entirely free of the deployment of any such technology — understandably given it isn’t commercially viable. Chevron’s attempt to use CCS at its Gorgon facility has been an expensive debacle.
Santos claims the project will generate “600 jobs throughout the construction phase and secure 350 jobs for the next 20 years of production at the Darwin LNG facility”. That amounts to around 5600 tonnes of CO2 for each job, every year, for 20 years … if we pretend the construction jobs are permanent.
Resources minister Keith Pitt lavished praise on Santos in March, describing Barossa as “a tremendous show of confidence in the long-term future of Australia’s resource sector”. Santos has handed over $1.8 million in donations to the Coalition in the last 20 years.