Zali Steggall MP calls government to regulate methane emissions

6 March 2023


Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I move the motion as is circulated.

Last year, Australia signed the global methane pledge to cut 30% methane emissions by 2030. Now most people think methane just comes from agriculture, and we always get an outcry from the National Members about beef production. But that’s only half the contribution of methane in Australia. Fossil fuel mining creates 40% of our methane emissions. “Natural” gas is methane and all too often it is just left leaking out into the air. Now gas is at record prices and it’s just leaking out, so, we are losing resources, risking energy supply and cooking the planet. It makes no sense. Methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The fossil fuel industry in Australia is releasing large quantities of gas to the atmosphere that should be captured and brought to market. The International Energy Agency found that fossil fuel companies in Australia are emitting around twice the methane that the government reports to the UNFCCC. This is now on satellite data. A satellite recent study from SRON, a Dutch space research institute, identified methane plumes across Australian coal mines: They estimated that Glencore’s Hail Creek mine in Queensland was emitting 15% more methane than the total methane emissions reported by all open cut mines in Queensland combined.

Now in January, the East Coast was facing Ministerial intervention to keep the lights on, and energy prices were skyrocketing. The coalition and the media were obsessing about needing new gas fields, “there isn’t enough supply”. To give you an idea, in January, during that perceived period of shortage, AEMO and the ACCC identified that we needed 30 petajoules of gas on top of current supply. Environment Defence Fund has identified that our annual methane emissions from leakage, so just letting it drift out, as 77 petajoules. So we could have met any kind of issue of shortage without opening up new wells.

If we were in a drought and we had a leaking tap, water, drip drip dripping away, we would fix it, we would not say, she’ll be right, let’s let that tap keep leaking and let’s go and open a new well. It’s time we did that for methane and gas. The government has to put in some gas leakage restrictions. The amount of gas leaking from Australian oil, gas and coal mines each year is about 5% of our annual usage.

The International Energy Agency’s annual Methane Tracker report released last Tuesday shows that methane emissions released through the fossil fuel supply chain are rising, even though technologies are available to cost-effectively capture and sell that gas.

So, we have an opportunity. The Safeguard Mechanism reforms are an important opportunity for the Government to bring in sensible measures for capturing and using that gas. The effectiveness of the Safeguard Mechanism will depend on the accuracy of the data it is based on, but the current reporting framework is just too lax to ensure any accuracy.

I am proposing an amendment to fix this. Most oil and as activities report – based on national averages rather than actuals. This needs to change. It has to be actually from real data. The Safeguard Mechanism reform process is an important moment to address energy sector methane emissions. Now this is crucial for dealing with global warming, and the fossil fuel industry can cut methane cheaply. We need to do this. The Environmental Defence Fund found that by focusing on the energy sector, Australia could cut methane emissions 30% by 2030, below a cost of $33 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The European Union will require importers to report methane emissions from supply chains, conduct regular leak detection and repair programmes, and cease methane venting and flaring in domestic oil and gas productions. Australia’s largest gas importer, Japan, has signalled its preference for low emissions gas, yet currently in Australia there is no national regulation preventing venting and flaring of methane. It is just allowed to leak.

So, I call on the Albanese government to get serious about these leaks.

  1. enact effective national methane regulations to limit venting and flaring of gas,
  2. implement best practice regulations from the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership,
  3. use the Safeguard Mechanism and other legislative pathways to drive methane capture and apply global best practice standards consistently across fossil fuel projects.

If we want to deal with global warming, we have to deal with methane.