Australian Commitment To Unlimited Natural Gas Exploitation Threatens Planet & Invites Global Blowback


Natural Gas

Australia is a major exporter of coal, gas and iron ore, and is set to become the world’s largest exporter of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).  However, depending upon the degree of systemic gas leakage,  burning gas for power may be worse greenhouse gas (GHG)-wise than burning coal.  However a remorselessly neoliberal, anti-science and anti-environment  Australia is committed to massive exploitation  of conventional  and non-conventional natural gas reserves for export and domestic use.

Australia is a world leader in annual per capita GHG pollution and both its Coalition Government and Labor Opposition are committed to unlimited coal and gas exploitation  [1, 2].  Australia is a key player in a dangerous global coal to gas transition that is a deadly and dishonest neoliberal alternative to the complete cessation of fossil fuel exploitation demanded by the worsening climate emergency.  The ideal target of no more than a 1.5C temperature rise agreed to at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference is now set to be exceeded within 4-10 years. A 2C temperature rise – that all governments (except for the idiotic, dangerous, climate change denialist US Trump Administration )  agree would be catastrophic – is now unavoidable.  While Humanity can still take action to make the now inevitable plus 2C future “less bad”, there is a looming threat of global warming causing massive release of methane (CH4) from the Arctic, a ticking “Methane Bomb” set to utterly  devastate Humanity and indeed all  life on earth in the coming century.

It is accordingly important to determine the greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution associated with this unlimited Australian exploitation of its gas reserves and associated with combustion or leakage of natural gas. Methane (CH4) is over 90% of natural gas but in the following calculations we will assume for simplicity that (a) natural gas is 100% CH4 and (b) that all gas leakage from Australian natural gas exploitation is occurring within Australia. Of course the arguments developed here can be applied to other countries exploiting  natural gas resources that should remain in the ground.

  1. 2.6% CH4 leakage is as polluting GHG-wise as burning the remaining CH4.

Methane (CH4) has a molecular weight of about 16 and CO2 has a molecular weight of about 44. Combustion of 16 tonnes CH4 yields 44 tonnes CO2 . However CH4 is a gas, leaks and has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 105 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame and with aerosol impacts considered [3]. One can readily calculate on this basis that a systemic gas leakage of 2.6% would contribute  as much GHG pollution as generating the greenhouse gas CO2 by burning the remaining  97.4% of the gas [4].

  1. Australia’s annual Domestic GHG pollution is 1,270 million tonnes (Mt)  CO2-e .

Australia’s annual Domestic GHG pollution as reported by the Australian Government is about 600 Mt  CO2-equivalent [5]. CO2-equivalent includes CO2 and the contributions of other GHGs such as CH4,  expressed as CO2-equivalent. However this estimate is based on a GWP for CH4 of 21 relative to that of CO2 and is accordingly deficient in assessing the GHG contribution of CH4. A revised estimate of Australia’s annual Domestic GHG pollution taking methanogenic livestock and associated land use into account is 52.9 tonnes per person x 24 million persons = 1,270 Mt CO2-e  [1].

  1. In 2017 Australia will export about 60 Mt gas and use 30 Mt gas domestically.

Australian Mining reported (2017): “Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports surged in 2016 as a plethora of new projects in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland triggered a flood of new shipments to global markets, a report from EnergyQuest has revealed. Total exports in 2016 reached 36.8 million tonnes (MT), a 37.7 per cent increase on the 26.7Mt recorded in the previous year, the report found. EnergyQuest expects 2017 to be even stronger for the export market. In its monthly LNG report, the consultancy outlined that as the Australia Pacific LNG and Gorgon operations continue to ramp up, and new projects like Wheatstone and Ichthys come into production, Australia’s 2017 exports will be close to 60Mt, up 63 per cent on 2016” [6].  In 2014-2015 Australian gas consumption was 1,610 PJ = 29 Mt natural gas. Australian gas consumption  in 2017 would accordingly be about 30 Mt [7, 8].

  1. At 2.6% gas leakage total GHG pollution within Australia from Australia’s 90 Mt  gas production in 2017 would be 322 Mt CO2-e.

If there were no CH4 leakage then combustion of  60 Mt of LNG exports (2017 expectation) outside of Australia would yield 60 Mt CH4 x 44 t CO2/ 16 t CH4 =  165 Mt CO2 (we can choose here to ignore this as part of Australia’s  annual GHG pollution but one notes that “cause and effect” analysis shows that if Australia didn’t extract and sell the gas then  this GHG pollution would not have been generated).

If there were 2.6% CH4 leakage, Exported GHG pollution from eventual CH4 combustion would be 0.974 x 60 x 44/16 =  161 Mt CO2.  The Domestic GHG pollution from a 2.6% systemic CH4 leakage from this 60 Mt of LNG would also be 161 Mt CO2-equivalent  (see #1 above; this calculation assumes for simplicity that all the gas is CH4 and ignores GHG pollution associated with extraction of Natural Gas (NG) and generation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from NG). Thus the total GHG pollution generated within Australia from this 60 Mt of exported LNG would be 161 million tonnes CO2-equivalent.

With a 2.6% systemic CH4 leakage from the 30 Mt gas used domestically, GHG pollution within Australia would be 80.5 (from CH4 leakage) + 80.5 (from burning the residual 29.2 Mt CH4) = 161 million tonnes CO2-e .

Thus total GHG pollution within Australia from 2017 Australian gas production would be 161 + 161 = 322 Mt CO2-e or about 25.4% of Australia’s  revised annual Domestic GHG pollution of 1,270 Mt CO2-e.

  1. At 1.2% gas leakage,  total GHG pollution within Australia from 2017 Australian gas production would be 195 Mt CO2-e.

At 1.2% gas leakage total GHG pollution within Australia  from 2017 Australian gas production would be (a) 0.012 x 60 x 105 = 75.6 Mt CO2-e (CH4 leaked from gas to be exported) plus (b) 0.988 x 30 x 44 / 16 = 81.5 (CO2 from domestically burning gas) plus (c) 0.012 x 30 x 105 = 37.8 (CH4 leaked from gas to be used domestically) for a total of  195 Mt CO2-e or 15.4% of Australia’s  revised annual Domestic GHG pollution of 1,270 Mt CO2-e.

  1. US gas leakage is 1.2% -2.4% overall and 3.6% -7.9% from “fracking” for shale gas.

The US EPA estimated 160.0 Mt CO2-e (6.4 Mt CH4 at a GWP of 25) gas leakage in 2015 [9] out of a total of 548 Mt gas extracted in 2015 [10], this corresponding  to a 6.4 x 100/ 548.0 = 1.2% gas leakage. According to Professor Steven Cohen (executive director of 100-Nobel-laureate  Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a professor in the practice of public affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs)  “The EPA estimated 2.4 per cent leakage for total natural gas production in 2009 (Tollefson, 2013)” [11].

Professor Howarth and colleagues from   54-Nobel-laureate Cornell University have estimated that  “3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life-time of a well” [12].

  1. Unknown degree of gas leakage causing elevated atmospheric CH4 in Australia.

Two Australian scientists, Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher from Southern Cross University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research in the School of Environment , Science and Engineering, found 3.5-fold elevated atmospheric methane in a coal seam gas (CSG) extraction area. According to Dr Damien Maher: “Typically background concentrations of methane in the atmosphere are approximately 1.8 parts per million. In Tara [a coal seam gas extraction area in Queensland ] the concentrations are consistently higher than two parts per million and approach seven parts per million in a few locations. This is about three and a half times higher than expected if there was no change in the atmosphere. These results are higher than values reported for conventional gas production fields in Siberia , one of the world’s largest natural gas production areas.” According  to Dr Isaac Santos: “Despite commercial production starting in the mid-1990s, this is the first publicly available data on concentrations of methane in the atmosphere of Australian CSG production areas. We used cutting edge technology to make the measurements. Our work highlights the need for further research to adequately quantify the emissions and their source” [13]. The degree of gas leakage in Australia has evidently not yet been accurately determined.

In 2015 the Department of the Environment of the Australian Government estimated total fugitive emissions (gas leakage) from fossil fuels of 46.5 Mt CO2-e for 2017-2018 of which one third, 15.5 Mt CO2-e, was from natural gas and oil [14]. However this estimate was based on a GWP of 21 for CH4 – assuming  GWP of 105, as in the present analysis , would bring this up to 77.5 Mt CO2-e , 2.5 times lower than the GHG pollution estimated from a 1.2% leakage from Australian gas (see #5 above) and 4.2 times lower than the GHG pollution estimated from a 2.6% leakage (see #4 above). As detailed below, hugely under-estimating gas leakage when Australia had a Carbon Tax amounted to huge Carbon Tax evasion.

  1. Gas leakage in Australia and huge Carbon Tax evasion.

The major political parties in Australia, the presently ruling extreme Right Liberal Party and National Party Coalition and the Rightist-dominated Labor Party Opposition , both support massive conventional natural gas developments and non-conventional Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and shale gas developments variously involving “fracking” (hydrological fracturing of underground strata). To its credit, the more science-responsive  former Labor Government  introduced a Carbon Tax to penalize fugitive emissions (gas leakage). However the endlessly dishonest and climate criminal Labor Government understated gas leakage as 0.12% (rather than the science-based estimates of 3%-7.9% for  gas produced non-conventionally ) [12] and under-estimated the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of methane (CH4, the bulk of natural gas) as 21 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2) (whereas it is actually 105 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time frame and considering aerosol impacts) [3]. This lead to an immense but unreported Carbon Tax Scandal in which a pro-gas Labor Government understated the Carbon Tax obligations of the corporate gas producers by a factor of 137- to 329-fold, collecting a mere $21 million annually rather than the science-indicated  Carbon Tax obligation of about $3-7 billion each year from leakage of natural gas (fugitive emissions)  [15]. Of course this huge, Elephant in the Room Carbon Tax Scandal was resolutely non-reported by Australian Mainstream media that are detestable purveyors of “Mainstream media fake news through lying by omission”. Further, the Labor Government was ousted by the climate criminal Coalition who campaigned successfully on abolishing the Carbon Tax i.e. not even the $21 million would be collected.

  1. Carbon Price, Carbon Debt, Australia’s gas exploitation and intergenerational injustice.

Climate economist Dr Chris Hope of 90-Nobel-Laureate Cambridge University has estimated a damage-related Carbon Price in US dollars of $200 per tonne CO2-equivalent [16]. Using estimates from Professor James Hansen  (a leading climate scientist from 85-Nobel-laureate Columbia University) of national contributions to Historical  Carbon Debt,  and assuming a damage-related Carbon Price of  $200 per tonne CO2-e,  the World has a damage-related Carbon Debt of $370 trillion that is increasing at $13 trillion per year,  and Australia has a Carbon Debt of $7.5 trillion that is increasing at $400 billion per year and at $40,000 per head per year for under-30 year old Australians [17]. Unlike conventional debt – that can be variously expunged by default, bankruptcy, printing money or the debtor running away to a secret new life – Carbon Debt via a damage-related Carbon Price is inescapable e.g.  if future  generations do not build sea walls, coastal cities will be submerged by increasing sea levels from global warming.

If there is no CH4 leakage then in 2017 Australia’s gas exploitation would incur a Carbon Debt within Australia from Domestic combustion of 30 Mt natural gas to yield 30 x 44/16 = 82.5 Mt CO2-e and a consequent Carbon Debt of 82.5 Mt CO2-e x $200 / tonne  CO2-e  = $16.5 billion – in today’s money,  and significant in the context of compounding interest on a “conventional”  Australian  gross national debt of $600 billion that is increasing at about $40 billion per year.  

By way of comparison, Oil & Gas Australia states that  “If current oil prices are maintained, EnergyQuest estimates that the value of Australian LNG exports will double to around A$36 billion [US$27 billion] in 2017” [18]. Thus, (assuming no gas leakage,  gas exploitation would leaves Australia with an annual increment in  damage-related Carbon Debt of presently at least $16.5 billion whereas one supposes that most of the present $27 billion in profits from Australian export of LNG   will end up overseas in tax havens or capital investments.

However, if there is a 2.6% leakage then in 2017 Australia will incur a gas exploitation Carbon Debt within Australia of 322 Mt CO2-e x $200/ tonne CO2-e = $64.4 billion, over twice the profit from exporting LNG.

If there is a 1.2% leakage,  then in 2017 Australia will incur a gas exploitation Carbon Debt within Australia of 195 Mt CO2-e x $200/ tonne CO2-e = $39.0 billion, this being 1.4 times the profit from exporting LNG.

Carbon Debt, including  that arising from gas leakage, represents massive intergenerational inequity [20] to which the young must surely respond with climate revolution now (peaceful of course, but a revolution for all that) [21, 22]

  1. Dirty gas and Australia’s disproportionate contribution to a worsening Climate Genocide.

Trump America, Trumpist Australia and neo-Trumpist Canada are acutely threatening the world with unlimited greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from unlimited fossil fuel exploitation.  For the  US,  Canada and Australia, full exploitation of presently recoverable fossil fuel reserves would generate GHG pollution vastly exceeding (37-fold) the whole world’s remaining Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget that must not be exceeded for a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise [23].

Australia’s annual domestic plus exported greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is so high that it exceeded its “fair share” of the whole world’s  Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget by mid-2011 and since then has been stealing the entitlement  of all other nations. Australia ‘s commitment to unlimited gas, coal and iron ore exports (supported by both the extreme Right governing Coalition and the Right-dominated  Labor Opposition)   means that it is committed to polluting the atmosphere with 20 times the whole world’s remaining Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget  of 88 billion tonnes CO2-e as of mid-2017. Yet  24 million Australians represent a mere 0.3% of the world’s population of 7.4 billion [23].

Recent revised estimates taking land use into account indicate that Australia ‘s annual Domestic per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution (52.9 tonnes CO2-e per person per year ) is about 20 times greater than the annual per capita GHG pollution of Bangladesh (2.7 tonnes CO2-e per person per year) [1]. However, Australia ‘s annual Domestic plus Exported per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution (116 tonnes CO2-e per person per year ) is about 43 times greater than the annual per capita GHG pollution of Bangladesh (2.7 tonnes CO2-e per person per year) [1]. Of course,  a look-the-other-way Australia remorselessly excludes from public discussion its huge Exported GHG pollution (1,511 Mt  CO2-e Exported GHG pollution in 2015 as compared to about 600 Mt  CO2-e Domestic GHG pollution) [5].). However if there is merely 1.2% of gas leakage then Australia’s already huge annual Domestic GHG pollution increases by 30% –  and if there is a 2.6% leakage it increases by about 50%.

Global CO2 pollution is increasing at a record rate of 3 ppm CO2 per year and atmospheric CO2 is at a record level of about 406  ppm CO2 [24]. The evident failure to tackle climate change is contributing to a worsening Climate Genocide in which 10 billion people may perish this century if global warming is not requisitely  addressed [25]. Already 7.5 million people die each year from air pollution (7 million) or climate  change (0.5 million) [26, 27]. However the latter figure may be an under-estimate because 17 million people presently die avoidably each year from deprivation in Developing Countries that are already disproportionately  impacted by climate change [27]. Presently resolutely  ignored by Mainstream media is the Arctic “Methane Bomb” threat – 50 billion tonnes  CH4 in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is predicted to be released in coming decades and is equivalent to 50 billion tonnes CH4 x 105 tonnes  CO2-equivalent/tonne CH4 = 5,250 billion tonnes CO2-e or about 60  times more than the world’s remaining Terminal  Carbon Pollution Budge of 88 billion tonnes CO2 as of 2017 [19, 29]. We are doomed unless we can stop this Arctic CH4 release.


In 2015 a climate criminal Australia ranked second worst after Saudi Arabia for climate change inaction in the German Climate Change Performance Index [30]. Australia is one of the very worst climate criminal nations and its commitment to unlimited gas, coal and iron ore exports (supported by both the extreme Right governing Coalition and the Right-dominated  Labor Opposition)   means that it is committed to polluting the one common atmosphere of all countries with over 3 times the world’s total Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget as of mid-2009 (600 billion tonnes CO2-e) or 20  times the whole world’s remaining Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget  of 88 billion tonnes CO2-e as of mid-2017. This Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget must not be exceeded if we are to have a 75% chance of avoiding   a catastrophic  2C temperature rise [19, 23].

Australia is set to be the world’s number 1 exporter of LNG and is presently exporting 60 Mt of LNG each year as well as using 30 Mt of gas each year domestically. Fanatical opposition to a Carbon Tax by the anti-science, pro-fossil fuels and effective climate change denialist  Coalition Governments under PM Tony Abbott and thence PM Malcolm Turnbull has led to great market uncertainty  about investment in coal-fired electricity generation, with the slack due to the closure of aging coal-fired plants increasingly being  taken up by investment in renewable energy (good) and gas-fired power (extremely bad). Rational, science-based schemes for rapid progression to 100% renewable energy for Australia include  energy storage for “when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t  shine”) variously  involving molten salts,  water storage, gas compression and batteries, together with a highly efficient national electricity grid   [5, 31, 32]. In the absence of timely action by the anti-science, pro-fossil fuels and effective climate change denialist  Federal Coalition Government,  recent power  blackout experiences prompted the Labor South Australian State Government to resort to dirty, gas-fired power as well as clean battery storage for base-load back-up in predicted future emergencies. The derelict and climate criminal Coalition Federal Government backs massive exploitation of gas for domestic purposes as well as for export.

Both the Australian Coalition  Government and the Labor Opposition are committed to Australia remaining  a world leading  exporter of coal, gas and iron ore and to expansion of domestic use of dirty gas (e.g. conventional gas or non-conventional gas from fracking). Hydrological fracturing (“fracking”) in particular has been opposed by environmental activists from urban Greens to farmers because it despoils farming land and threatens vital aquifers in drought-impacted Australia.  Neoliberal politicians and lobbyists falsely argue that “gas is clean” and similarly falsely  talk of “clean coal”,  yet the harsh reality ignored in neoliberal and look-the-other-way Mainstream Australia is that, depending upon the degree of gas leakage, gas burning for power can be dirtier  GHG-wise than burning  coal.

Australia’s massive exploitation of dirty gas can be seen as a detonator for the Arctic Methane Bomb that  threatens to destroy much of Humanity and the Biosphere in the coming century. Australia’s ever-worsening, greed-driven  climate criminality will inevitably invite global Climate Blowback through Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS),   International Court of Justice (ICJ) litigations, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions, Eco-tariffs and  Green Tariffs.


[1]. Gideon Polya, “Revised Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution For All Countries – What Is Your Country Doing?”, Countercurrents, 6 January, 2016: .

[2]. Gideon Polya, “Exposing And Thence Punishing Worst Polluter Nations Via Weighted Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution Scores”, Countercurrents, 19 March, 2016: .

[3].  Drew T. Shindell , Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch ,   Gavin A. Schmidt,   Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer , “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718:   .

[4]. “Gas is not clean energy”: .

[5]. “2011 climate change course”: ; see section G.

[6]. Australian Mining, “Australian LNG developments trigger export growth: EnergyQuest”, 17 January 2017:  .

[7]. Australian Government, “Australian energy projections to 2049-50”, November 2014: .

[8]. “Conversion factors relevant to petrochemical activities”: .

[9]. EPA, “Draft inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks: 1990-2019”, 2017: .

[10]. “Natural gas”, BP statistical review of world energy, June 2016: .

[11]. Steven Cohen, “Understanding  Environmental Policy”, Columbia University Press, 2014, page 110.

[12]. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea, “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations”, Climatic Change”, 12 November 2010: .

[13]. “SCU releases first independent methane observations in Australian CSG [Coal Seam Gas] fields”, Southern Cross University, 15 November 2012:  .

[14]. Australian Government, Department of the Environment, “Fugitive emissions projections 2014-15, August 2015.

[15]. Gideon Polya, “Australia’s Carbon Tax scandal”, MWC News, 23 November 2012: .

[16]. Chris Hope, “How high should climate change taxes be?”, Working Paper Series, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, 9, 2011: .

[17]. “Carbon Debt Carbon Credit”: .

[18]. Oil & Gas Australia, “Australian LNG exports to hit [A]$36 billion in 2017”.  17 January 2017: .

[19]. Gideon Polya, “Trump America, Trudeau Canada & Turnbull Australia Doom World With Unlimited Greenhouse Gas Pollution”, Countercurrents, 5 April  2017: .

[20]. “Climate Justice & Intergenerational Equity”: .

[21]. “Divest from fossil fuels”: .

[22]. Climate Revolution Now”: .

[23]. Gideon Polya, “Australia ‘s Huge Coal, Gas & Iron Ore Exports Threaten Planet”, Countercurrents, 15 May 2012: .

[24]. NOAA, “Trends in atmospheric CO2”:

[25]. “Climate Genocide”: .

[26]. “Nuclear weapons ban , end poverty & reverse climate change”: .

[27]. “Stop air pollution deaths”:

[28]. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, that includes a succinct history  of every country and is now available for free perusal on the web:  .

[29]. “Methane Bomb Threat”:

[30]. German Climate Watch Index 2015: .

[31]. Beyond Zero Emissions Zero (BZE), Zero Carbon Australia by 2020 Report (BZE ZCA2020 Report), 2010: .

[32]. Peter Seligman, “Australian sustainable energy – by the numbers”, Melbourne Energy Institute, University of Melbourne , 2010:

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007:

) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see:  ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others:  ;  Gideon Polya:  ; Gideon Polya Writing: ; Gideon Polya, Wikipedia: ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures – for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: and .

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News