A screening of Water is Life (2018), a campaign documentary by Seed Indigenous Climate Justice Network at the Floating University Berlin in conjunction with Gastivists Berlin.
The screening was followed by an input to connect Berlin to the Northern Territory, Australia via the burgeoning global liquid natural gas (LNG) infrastructure. In the EU gas has been promoted as a necessary ‘transition fuel’ between coal and renewables. Many scientists, policy researchers and activists think otherwise.
Lea from the Gastivists-Berlin and myself facilitated a discussion after the film. Our presentation notes are below:
‘Water is Life’ Input: Connecting the dots.
Australia & Liquid Natural Gas
According to Seed, Australia’s first Indigenous Youth Climate Justice Network:
51% of the Northern Territory is covered in exploration licenses for oil and gas. If all of this went ahead, much of the Aboriginal owned land would have country polluted by the shale gas industry. Deserts, springs, plains, and bushland are risk. From prior experience with mining industries, Aboriginal communities are wary that these developments will poison groundwater, pollute the air, destroy sacred sites, and change the seasons.
According to researcher and artist Rachel O’Reilly whose ongoing project ‘The Gas Imaginary’ concerns the fracking infrastructure in Australia:
The Northern Territory’s infrequent monsoonal and otherwise dry weather systems all connect with the Great Artestian (water) basin. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the Northern Territory will undergo warming from 1-1.5 ̊C up to 2-3 ̊C in the next thirty years, while more than half of Territorians living in remote communities have no local health services. On the ground [Aboriginal] elders deal in their 2nd and 3rd languages with duplicitous corporate approvals processes. The supposed unprecedentedness of fracking’s arrival is challenged by the ordinariness of abandonment and value extraction in this terrain – the fact that most outspoken leaders on the anti-fracking frontline live with toxic land and water already, from prior decades of ‘conventional’ colonial administration, mining and defence industry projects.
Currently Australia is the leading exporter of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG),exporting 75.1 million tonnes (Mt) of LNG over the last year (1 July 2018–30 June 2019). Most of this is from conventional gasfields, including the Gorgon Project (Chevron / Exxon Mobil) a group of gasfields off the coast of Western Australia, and one of the largest LNG projects in the world. While gas companies have been exporting record amounts of gas from Australia there has been a shortage of domestic supply, which is being used as argument by industry and government to pursue fracking despite its widespread unpopularity.
According to Climate Analytics (2018) LNG dedicated for exports is the main factor contributing to the growth in emissions in Australian, with an expected growth of 200 percent between 2015 and 2020! [see also: Jotzo and Mazouz (2019)]
Australia exported some 75.1 million tonnes (Mt) of LNG in 1111 cargoes last financial year (1 July 2018–30 June 2019), generating an estimated AUD50.5 billion of revenues, behind only iron ore and coal. The bulk was shipped to Japan and China. (This is a 21.2 per cent upswing in shipments from the last financial year.) Australia is second to Qatar who export 77 Mt per year, but predictions are that Australia will surpass this in the coming year with exports of around 80Mt. Notably, US LNG production is also growing and Qatar has announced plans to boost LNG production to 100Mt (EnergyQuest 2019, Macdonald-Smith 2019). The US is predicted to become the world’s largest LNG exporting country in the mid-2020s with LNG shipments from the US projected to reach 86 million tonnes in 2025 and 115 million tonnes in 2040 (LNG World News 2018).
Notably (fracked) coal-seam gas supplies are depleting faster than expected causing an energy consultancy to warn that one-third of the east coast LNG industry, located in the State of Queensland, could be closed by the year 2025, less than a decade after AUD 60 billion was invested in their development. (Treadgold 2019)
Global climate impact of fossil gas
The extraction and the use of fossil gas has not only direct consequences on people, their land and their environment, it also has a huge effect on the climate. The main part of fossil gas is methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas. In the first 20 years it has an impact 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2) when extracted and transporting fossil gas. Methane is always leaks at the fracking site and in the pipeline. A significant problem is that leaks are difficult to measure, but studies often find that there is more methane in the atmosphere than predicted. Emissions are higher when you use fracking to extract the gas and when the transport is long (and of course also the transport needs a lot of energy too!). When it now comes to transport fossil gas in a liquid way to Europe from places such as Australia, Qatar, North America, Algeria and Nigeria one must include all the energy processes of transformation and transport needs. Given the inevitability of leaks LNG has produces much higher emissions than coal.
Why LNG? Political decisons and the lobby behind
Gas Consumption in EU peaked around 2005 and fell between 2008–2010, coinciding with the Global Financial Crisis. Also the growth in renewables and the low price of coal made it more economic for gas-powered plants to cover peak demand.
The main consumers of energy are the residential sector where gas demand is seasonal, ie for heating in winter. There is an opportunity to act on this demand by improving energy efficiency of buildings and renewables consumption.
Imported LNG is a small fraction of EU gas consumption although there are significant import terminals. Main exporters to EU are Russian Federation, Norway and Algeria, together with the recent incorporation of Qatar. The Netherlands has rapidly shrunk production in recent years and last year for the first time since the 1950s became a net importer of gas.
Founded in 2015, the Energy Union moved to diversify imports from the ‘Russian zone of influence’ and to Interconnect member states so that gas can flow freely amongst member states. The EU Energy Union’s strategy is to break its reliance on Russian gas and look for other sources. The US, which is predicted to be the largest exporter of (fracked) LNG in the coming years has been pressuring Germany to build a new gas terminal to receive shipped gas, which it has announced it will do. This terminal is not exclusive to LNG from the US and the development of export markets for (shipped) LNG has broader implications for fracked gas from Australia, Qatar, Africa and South America.
Gas is non-renewable and with its supply estimated to peak around 2030 it will lead to a higher volatility in its availability and higher prices.
1) The multi-million investments in infrastructures are based on future projections of consumptions that are intentionally optimistic
2) The majority of these investments are backed up by funds and/or guarantees which transfer the risk to the public domain
3) If the whole projected capacity were to start operations, this would cause gas prices to plummet and would contribute to the climate catastrophe
4) The service life of these infrastructures is calculated between 40–50 years and the gas peak will occur before this period; therefore many will fall into disuse. (Pérez, p. 30)
Legal Architecture of Impunity/Lawfare
Under Free Trade Agreements companies can file cases against states that ban or limit fracking as anti-competitive. So from a civil society perspective there is a need to pursue energy democracy.
German government is planning to bring shipped LNG to the EU, responding to lobbying from the US to develop markets for its fracked gas. This also has implications for other gas producing states, such as Australia.
Germany has no LNG terminal. Spain has seven, the UK six, France four, Italy three and the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Belgium, Poland and Lithuania one each (DW 2018) all of which are underutilised. On an EU-wide level, the utilisation rate of existing LNG infrastructure was less than 25 per cent in 2017 (Fitzgerald, Braunger and Brauers 2019)
There are three proposed sites for LNG terminals; Brunsbüttel, Stade and Wilhemshaven. The costs for the biggest terminal could be half a billion Euros or more! The Australian investment firm Australia Macquarie Group, one of the world’s largest investors for infrastructure projects, has already signed a letter of intent to finance the Stade terminal.
The US pressuring Germany to build LNG terminals, threatening with higher taxes for exporting cars to the US. In addition to the three LNG terminals here, the Reichstag supports and finances fracking and fossil gas infrastructure in the countries where they want to import the gas from, and are seeking to secure financing for a LNG terminal in Goldboro, Canada, where also fracking is happening on Indigenous land.
Simultaneously, Germany continued to support construction of a pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would deliver gas from Russia. The pipeline is fraught with geopolitical significance and the US has threatened sanctions against the companies building it, saying it would make Germany even more dependent on Russian energy. Countries including France and Poland shared US’ concerns. (Eddy and Ewing 2019).
Germany and the EU is responsible for the current development of the global gas infrastructure that will continue to ‘lock us in’ to fossil fuels, and at significant environmental, financial and humanitarian costs.
While the Energy Union claims gas is crucial to EU energy security, gas is not aligned with the EU goals of climate neutrality by 2050 (Fitzgerald, Braunger and Brauers 2019).
Development and investment in global gas infrastructure leads to ‘lock-in’ effects which make it politically more difficult to withdraw once key decisions have been made.
Global gas markets will contribute significantly to emissions and takes important research, technology and investment away from developing (global) renewable energy systems.
The development of a global gas market puts more pressure on frontline communities as industries seek to develop and exploit their lands. While gas fracked from the NT might not end up in the EU, the development of export markets for LNG provides incentives (such as designed domestic shortages) for states to pursue fracking. The destruction of Aboriginal life-worlds is effectively a continuation colonial and genocidal logic in Australia and elsewhere has been happening for hundreds of years.
Communities have different capacities to organise and lobby key players in the development of global gas markets, like we can here. As relatively privileged people living in Europe we argue that we must pursue climate justice and demand 100% renewable energy!
Cohen, Ariel, 2018. ‘Germany’s First LNG Terminal Is The Right Move For Europe’s Energy Security’, Forbes, 13 November.
DW, 2018 ‘Germany warms to plan for liquefied natural gas terminal’, 24 October.
Eddy, Melissa and Ewing, Eddy, 2019. ‘U.S. and Germany Defuse an Energy Dispute, Easing Tensions’, The New York Times, 12 February.
EnergyQuest June 2019 LNG Report, 14 July.
European Commision, Energy Union and Climate (website)
Fitzgerald, Louise Michelle; Braunger, Isabell and Hanna Brauers, 2019. Destabilisation of Sustainable Energy Transformations: Analysing Natural Gas Lock-in in the case of Germany, STEPS Centre.
Jotzo, Frank and Mazouz, Salim, 2019. ‘Australia’s energy exports increase global greenhouse emissions, not decrease them.’ The Conversation, 19 June 2019.
LNG World News, 2018. ‘Report: Australia’s LNG exports to hit 76.5 million tonnes in 2018-19’, 8 January.
Macdonald-Smith, Angela, 2019. ‘LNG breaks record with $50.5b of exports’, Australian Financial Review, 15 July.
Pérez, Alfons, 2018. Global Gas Lock-in. Bridge to nowhere. Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Brussels Office.
Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network (website)
Treadgold, Tim, 2019. ‘Australia’s Gas Exports To Asia Facing Technical And Government Limits’, Forbes, 5 March.
McLean, Bethany, 2018. ‘The Next Financial Crisis Lurks Underground’, The New York Times, 01 September.
Gorgon Project (website)
Deutsche Umwelthilfe (website)