Follows is a response to Australian Petroleum Production & Explorations Association’s Stedman Ellis’s letter in last weeks Herald, on page 6 (click on the Herald link and use the page tabs to go to page 6). His letter was in response to my EarthCare piece of the previous week.
I’d like to thank the Australian Petroleum Production & Explorations Association’s Stedman Ellis for his letter regarding July’s EarthCare More than a fraction to much extraction. I now know that at least one person read the piece. Stedman say’s the opinion piece is lacking in scientific and factual information. I’d be happy to rewrite it in academic tones and fully referenced, because the basic information was and is accurate. The information relating to concerns of fracking squandering water and risking contaminating the Canning Basin water came from a paper by the Water Corporation’s Hew Merrett, Andrew Bath and Andrew Jones called Unconventional Gas Development in WA: a Water Utility Perspective, and subsequent presentation from Andrew Bath.
The substance of More than a fraction to much extraction was that if we are to keep global warming to below 2*C, a limit generally accepted by climate scientists as critical, we need to leave 60% of the known fossil fuel resources in the ground. As a result, I was putting the case that those with higher environmental risks as candidates for a moratorium on their extraction.
There are good scientific, moral and legal reasons to keep atmospheric concentration of CO2 below 450ppm and associated 2*C temperature rise, no matter how financially compelling it is to multinational energy companies to think otherwise. The carbon budget to not break the 450ppm / 2*C limit is 900 GigaTonnes (GT) between now and 2050. Burning the currently known reserves of fossil fuels would emit about 2,860 GT in that same period. The simple fact is that 60% of known reserves have to be left in the ground. The challenge for the global community is to determine which reserves should be exploited in the next 37 years and which should be left for future generations to exploit and return some intergenerational equity to the planet. If we look at this logically, the answers become very clear. The higher carbon emitters such as coal should be abandoned first; the resources subject to fugitive emissions (emissions related to exploitation of the resource) should be abandoned first and resources that present secondary environmental risks should be abandoned first.
Secondary environmental risks include extreme oil and gas drilling rigs such as Deepwater Horizon, tar sands (which also have large fugitive emissions) and gas fracking which puts the valuable resource of clean water at risk.
There are also international equity issues relating to the amount of any carbon budget individual nations should be allowed to contribute.
There are signs that there is a move in the right direction, albeit far too slowly. Economists are now considering a future where national wealth is decoupled from fossil fuel use and investors are abandoning shares in listed companies that are extreme carbon emitters such as those in the coal and aluminium sectors.
At the end of the day if we are to keep the global temperature rise below 2*C the future of our planet has to be taken out of the hands of multinational resource companies.