Government’s abject failure to understand the gas industry’s huge health impacts

Sep 12, 2023
Burning gas burner of a home stove in the middle of which is the flag of the country of Australia. Gas import and export delivery concept,

Current articles on the government’s climate policies increasingly use words such as reckless, hypocrisy and betrayal referring to approval of coal mines. But it is even more difficult to find words to describe the gas industry’s infliction of pain on humanity by the approval of gas mines.

It is a shock to many that coalmine approvals continue, the most recent being the Crinum mine in Queensland. This came one week after Climate Minister Chris Bowen toured the Pacific to promote Australia as a country that was “delivering real action on climate change”

It has been noted that “coalmine expansions and developments approved in Australia so far this year are expected to add nearly 150m tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over their lifetimes – equivalent to nearly a third of the country’s annual climate pollution”

This is a betrayal when virtually all climate scientists believe we are in a climate crisis and we may soon reach a tipping point— a point of no return, and it ignores the pleas of the IPCC and the UN Secretary General António Guterres that there can be no further fossil fuel development.

The dreadful facts are that Australia’s domestic greenhouse emissions are still rising and have been since 2005. It will be nigh impossible for us to reach the meagre 43% target reduction by 2030.

The main reason is that production of gas and LNG are increasing.

As of December 2022, Australia has 49 oil and gas development projects which will further increase our commitment to gas as an energy source and during 2022-2023 over $30 billion has been committed to them.

Australia has the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity in operation worldwide as of July 2022 with 87.6 million metric tons per year closely followed by Qatar and the USA. Australia and Qatar are currently the major exporting countries of LNG.

A new report “The risks of oil and gas development for human health and wellbeing: A synthesis of evidence and implications for Australia” details a host of health impacts and deaths in the gas field of the USA.

Its findings were a shock to the authors as they analysed the evidence and they will shock the readers.

The report identifies and discusses an extensive body of recent, peer-reviewed scientific and public health literature on five areas of extreme concern, namely: the procedural risks posed by oil and gas operations to biodiversity, water and food security; contributions to the climate emergency; the vast array of potentially harmful chemicals involved; contamination pathways into water and air; resulting physical, social, emotional and spiritual health losses associated with extensive disruption of life near oil and gas fields and its sprawling infrastructure.

In this year of the Voice it is vital to realise that Aboriginal rights have been ignored in innumerable gas developments.

The Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory (2018) stated:

“Aboriginal people from regional communities who made submissions to the Panel almost universally expressed deep concern about, and strong opposition to, the development of any onshore shale gas industry on their country… The Panel received an abundance of evidence that the broader Aboriginal community was not being appropriately informed about fracking or the potential for an onshore shale gas industry more broadly. The responses to the presentation by the Panel at community consultations on the processes involved in fracking for onshore shale gas suggest that the knowledge of the likely impacts of this industry within the Aboriginal community in the Beetaloo Sub- basin, and more widely, is wholly inadequate”.

This is of deep current concern for developments in the NT at Beetaloo for example.

On the election of the Albanese government which had messaged vital climate and environmental reform, hopes were high, but over 15 months disappointment has gradually evolved and now the words reckless, hypocrisy and betrayal have slowly appeared in the media.

Why has this occurred, possibly lack of knowledge, the power of the fossil fuel industry or perhaps development of more coal and gas to provide huge income to make it easier to win the next election.

The Guardian notes that Greg Mullins – a member of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action group – said continued export of fossil fuels is like selling drugs, and the IMF says fossil fuels cost the Australian budget $65bn a year – much of which is due to failure to recoup the environmental and health costs. Worldwide, Big Oil is greatly increasing its production so much so that there seems little hope for humanity.

In 2021, the State of the Environment Report showed deep concern for the deterioration of many crucial factors needed to maintain environmental sustainability.

Crucial to the success of these gas developments is lack of regulation because of failure to revise the EPBC Act.

The new government had available Professor Graeme Samuel’s report on the 1999 EPBC Act which indicated the need for urgent revision. Samuel exposed the inadequacies of State expertise to deliver appropriate Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for proposals. EIS embraces Health Impact Assessment and this has been evaded by States and Commonwealth when granting many approvals.

One further concern is the delay in bringing shale gas into the purview of the Expert Scientific Committee for coal and coal seam gas; there is an impending world water crisis which includes Australia and water remains a ‘given’ for shale gas mining.

At a time when many scientists consider that the current state of the environment is so bad that a tipping point may be imminent, one would have expected revision of the EPBC Act in the first 6 months of the incoming Albanese government.

Is there intent in this delay – to avoid rejection of developments because of health and environmental issues are at last recognised? Our comprehensive Report which details the many severe health impacts from gas mining should ensure that these are presented and costed for current and future developments.

Surely it is a betrayal of trust if government has acted in this way with lives and health sold for export monies? And even more stunning, a failure to understand or deny the threats of climate change. Perhaps a new word has been coined- the Government is doing a ‘McGowan’.

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