By Kathryn Diss / ABC News / June 2018

Main Image: Australia’s LNG production has jumped in recent years

It is just one example of a broader problem facing the nation as it tackles the massive challenge of meeting its Paris Agreement commitment to reduce 2005 emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030.

Chevron began operating its $US54 billion ($73 billion) Gorgon gas plant in the state’s north-west in 2016.

Part of its environmental agreement was to capture and store underground 40 per cent of the plant’s emissions through a sophisticated process known as geosequestration or carbon capture and storage.

This involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2), typically produced by large industrial plants, before it enters the atmosphere.

It is then compressed and injected deep into rock formations for permanent storage.

Video Link: The Gorgon Carbon capture process explained (ABC News)

Chevron predicted that process would have seen between 5.5 and 8 million tonnes of CO2 injected into the ground during the plant’s first two years of production from the Gorgon field, making it one of the largest carbon abatement activities in the world.

Instead, technical problems with seals and corrosion issues in the infrastructure have delayed CO2 storage and the Federal Government, which contributed $60 million towards the green technology, is not expecting the problem to be rectified until March 2019 — about two years after production began from the Gorgon gas field.

By that point, experts including energy consultancy firm Energetics predict the additional CO2 emitted into the atmosphere will be roughly equivalent to the 6.2 million tonnes in emissions saved in a year by all the solar panels in the country combined — from small household rooftop systems to major commercial installations.

In the meantime, all those emissions supposed to be injected underground are being vented into the atmosphere.

Solar power gains wiped out

Almost 2 million Australian households have installed solar panels to cut their power bills while also doing their bit for the environment. Households account for most of the country’s total solar panel emission savings.

Australian PV installations since April 2001: total capacity (kW)

Source: Australian PV Institute  

Dr Hare, a physicist and climate scientist of 30 years, founded Berlin-based research organisation Climate Analytics and has helped negotiate several international climate policies, including the Paris Agreement in 2015.

“Many people have proudly put solar panels on their roofs, not just to save on their power bills but to do something for the climate,” he said.

The amount of carbon emissions avoided due to solar PV installations (tonnes) each 12-month period, April 2015-March 2018
Photo: Cheron’s Gorgon gas project on Barrow Island off the WA coast (Supplied: Chevron)

If the company doesn’t meet the requirement it is meant to find alternative offsets, but experts are worried the goalposts will be moved.

Climate change consultant Greg Bourne, the former energy adviser to British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and regional president for BP Australasia, warned governments against backing off.

“These sorts of issues can set very, very dangerous precedents,” he said.

“They should be required to purchase [carbon] offsets equivalent to the same volume they were expected to inject over the first five-year period.

If put in monetary terms, offsetting that much CO2 would costs tens of millions of dollars a year in carbon credits.

A review is also underway into the emissions conditions placed on Chevron’s other major north-west WA project — Wheatstone.

Conditions imposed on that project by the WA Government were waived by the previous government of Colin Barnett when the Clean Energy Act came into effect in 2011.

But given the Act was later repealed, the WA Government is re-examining if the company should be offsetting more of its greenhouse gases.

While no other major oil and gas company operating in Australia has tackled such a complex project like carbon capture and storage, other players in the market such as Woodside, INPEX and ConocoPhillips are reducing emissions from various projects with locally generated offsets.

National inventory total (including the land sector)(Mt CO2-e), 2000-2018

This is likely to have a major impact on Australia’s attempts to meet the Paris Agreement.

‘No way’ Australia can meet Paris target: experts

But it doesn’t just come down to the gas industry.

The electricity sector is the biggest contributor to emissions, followed by direct combustion which includes the mining, manufacturing and LNG sectors, while transport comes in third and is expected to continue rising due to population growth and increased numbers of heavy vehicles used for freight and agriculture.

Yearly emissions by sector (Mt CO2)