Fracking the Beetaloo Basin would set off a carbon bomb and increase Australia’s total emissions by up to a whopping 22 per cent - fuelling climate disaster.
In 2018, the Gunner Government committed to ensuring there would be no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions from any fracking in the NT. Yet their so-called Offsets Policy contains no concrete explanation of how the Government will make polluting companies offset massive emissions from fracking.
What is a carbon offset?
At its core, emissions offsets are an accounting mechanism. And for clever accountants, it’s not hard to generate lots of offsets.
Carbon offsets are generated by activities that either reduce, remove or capture greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere - such as reforestation, renewable energy or energy efficiency projects.
These activities are used to compensate, or offset, the emissions produced by a business or industry – for example, gas companies fracking the Beetaloo - and bring their carbon footprint down to zero.
In the Northern Territory, fire management practices e.g. conducting controlled burns early in the dry season in order to reduce potential emissions from wildfires are one way to generate offsets. A single carbon credit (known as an ACCU) is issued for every tonne of emissions avoided, removed or captured from the atmosphere.
“…carbon offsets can play a small role in avoiding dangerous climate change. But make no mistake – not chopping down a few trees won’t protect us from the emissions that come with opening enormous new gas wells and coalmines.” Richard Denniss, The Guardian
Carbon offsets in the NT and Australia
Currently, in the Northern Territory, the supply of carbon offsets is around 1 million tonnes a year through savannah burning, most of which are already committed.
The NT Government has stated that between 39 -117 million tonnes of GHG emissions will need to be offset annually (an increase of Australia’s emissions by 7-22%) as a result of developing the Beetaloo Basin. In 2020, across all of Australia, the supply of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) reached 16 million tonnes.
The scale of offsets required to frack the Beetalo is huge, and dwarfs the existing offset market. As a result, the Northern Territory Government’s Offset Policy is of national significance.
Offsetting a carbon bomb – fact or fantasy?
The Northern Territory Government and Federal Government are trying to fast track fracking in the Beetaloo Basin - Australia’s largest gas reserve – which could release up to 117 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year.
In 2018, the landmark Pepper inquiry recommended that emissions from shale gas development in the territory be “fully offset so that there is no net increase in the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT”.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner committed to implementing all 135 recommendations, but ALEC is concerned the Gunner government’s climate policies still make no requirement for companies to offset the burning of gas.
New policies have raised concerns
Offsets are not a substitute for keeping fossil fuels in the ground. What’s worse, two policies the NT government has released on greenhouse gas emissions and rules for big emitters indicates the Government has no intention of keeping its promise to offset climate changing-causing emissions.
Carbon credit or 'hot air'?
The NT government has created a new category it has called "indirect offsets" and which do not exist anywhere else in Australia.
This allows companies to fund research into how emissions may be able to be offset in future, instead of projects which reduce them right now, such as planting trees. In its current form, the policy would allow indirect offsets to account for 50% of all offsets in the Northern Territory.
ALEC is wary that this category appears to be a loophole to avoid the significant economic costs of offsetting all emissions from gas extraction in the Beetaloo Basin, and allowing this dangerous industry to go ahead without proper safeguards in place.
In response to this woeful offsets policy, more than 60 leading climate scientists wrote an open-letter calling on the Gunner Government to halt fracking if they cannot meet their promise to fully offset emissions.