AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Are methane leaks from gas production Australia’s fastest-growing source of carbon emissions?

By James Lane and Louise Evans

The Statement

“Australia’s fastest-growing source of emissions is leaking methane from gas projects."

Greens leader Richard Di Natale. April 24, 2019.

The Analysis

Greens leader and Victorian Senator Richard Di Natale has criticised the $1.5 billion plan from Labor leader Bill Shorten to unlock gas reserves in northern Australia. Senator Di Natalie believes Australia should not be opening any more coal, oil or gas fields because of the environmental impact. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined the claim from Senator Richard Di Natale that methane leaks from gas projects are Australia’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions. [1].

Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the climate warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released. Producing and transporting natural gas releases methane. [2]

Emissions reduction is a major election battleground. Labor is proposing an emissions reduction target of 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. [3]

The government wants to reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. [4]

The Greens want zero or negative greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. [5]

Senator Di Natale’s office told AAP FactCheck his claim was based on the Department of Environment and Energy’s quarterly update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

Based on the department’s September 2018 report there was a 7.3 per cent increase in fugitive emissions - the technical term for leaking methane - for the 12 months ending September 2018 - the largest rise across eight emissions sectors measured in the update. [6]

The seven other emissions sectors are electricity, stationary energy, transport, industrial processes and product use, agriculture, waste and land use change, and forestry. After fugitive emissions the next two biggest increases were recorded by stationary energy 5.8 per cent and industrial 3.2 per cent. [6]

A separate 2018 report by the Climate Council found fugitive emissions in Australia had risen by 49 per cent since 1990. The paper contained a table of annual emission figures across the same sectors with fugitive emissions again recording the largest increase between December 2017 and December 2018 of 10.5 per cent, ahead of stationary energy 3.8 per cent and transport 3.4 per cent. [7]

However, both reports state gas production is just one element of fugitive emissions which also includes oil and coal production and distribution. The report used by the senator states fugitive emissions include “the production, processing, transport, storage, transmission and distribution of fossil fuels. These include coal, crude oil and natural gas. Emissions from decommissioned underground coal mines are also included in this sector”. [6]

The 2018 Climate Council report states “fugitive emissions are mostly released from underground coal mines, coal seam gas and conventional gas production. Gas and coal production are each responsible for around 43 per cent of fugitive emissions (Australian Government 2017)”. [7]

AAP FactCheck finds it is true that Australia’s fastest-growing source of emissions is leaking methane.

But it is not from gas projects alone, as Senator Di Natalie stated, and based on the report he used.

The Climate Council report shows gas production is the equal fastest source of carbon emissions along with coal.

The Verdict

  • Somewhat False - Mostly false, but there is more than one element of truth.

The References

1. ‘Labor’s carbon knockout for top companies’, by Simon Benson. The Australian. April 24, 20019: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/labors-carbon-knockout-for-top-companies/news-story/7b416524a3df8eb5bc403903c9856b81

2. ‘The US natural gas industry is leaking way more methane than previously thought. Here’s why that matters’, by Anthony J Marchese and Dan Zimmerie. The Conversation. July 2, 2018: https://theconversation.com/the-us-natural-gas-industry-is-leaking-way-more-methane-than-previously-thought-heres-why-that-matters-98918

3. ‘Major parties battle over climate costs’. SBS/AAP. April 24, 2019: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/major-parties-battle-over-climate-costs

4. ‘Climate Solutions Package’. Australian Government. 2019: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/bb29bc9f-8b96-4b10-84a0-46b7d36d5b8e/files/climate-solutions-package.pdf

5. ‘Climate change and energy’. The Greens. November 2018: https://greens.org.au/policies/climate-change-and-energy

6. ‘Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory’. Australian Government. Department of the Environment and Energy. September report (Page 7 and 15):http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/4391288e-fc2b-477d-9f0b-99a01363e534/files/nggi-quarterly-update-sept-2018.pdf

7: ‘Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions’. Climate Council. 2018 (Page 8 and 24): https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CC_MVSA0143-Briefing-Paper-Australias-Rising-Emissions_V8-FA_Low-Res_Single-Pages3.pdf

  • First published April 25, 2019 17:35 AEST