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Narrabri Gas Project should be blocked, says ex-chief scientist

“So why would you be approving a new fossil fuel project with a life of 25 years?”

According to her submission to the planning commission, written on behalf of the NSW Environmental Defenders Office, the Narrabri Gas Project alone would burn through 11 per cent of the state’s carbon budget if it is to do its part to meet Paris targets.

“The Project will add about 5 MtCO2 [million tonnes of greenhouse gasses] annually to Australia’s direct emissions at a time when Australia needs to find about 7.5 MtCO2 new reduction every year to meet its 2030 goal, as well as maintaining the reductions found in previous years,” writes Professor Sackett.

“About 50 per cent of Australian gas reserves must remain in the ground to achieve a 2°C [global warming] scenario. Thus, approval of new fossil fuel development or expansion is incompatible with keeping global warming to 2°C, and will `lock in’ emissions and warming far beyond the end of mining operations.”

In her submission, Professor Sackett writes that gas is not a transition fuel “to a future world that stays well below 2°C of warming”. She said gas was a fossil fuel that had only marginal benefits over coal on greenhouse gas emissions, and “perhaps very little at all when methane emissions are fully and realistically accounted.”

As the gas is all destined to be used onshore all of it would count as Australian emissions, and as NSW was the only government that could stop the project, “from both a local and global environmental protection point of view, NSW is the responsible jurisdiction,” says the paper.

A spokesman for Santos said the project would provide cleaner energy than some sources of gas already being used in NSW. “As the Department of Planning found, Narrabri would encourage the development of gas-fired power stations in NSW to compensate for the closure of several coal-fired power stations in the next 20 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in NSW,” he said,

The planning commission is expected to make a decision next month on whether to approve the plan that the proponents say will increase gas domestic gas supply.

The federal government has voiced its support for a gas-led recovery from the economic crisis prompted by the pandemic, in line with advice from the National COVID-19 Commission chaired by Nev Power, who has “stepped back” from his position as deputy chairman of gas company Strike Energy.

Last week The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reported that three federal ministers were working on ways to reduce gas prices, raising the prospect that new projects might soon be announced.

The Narrabri Gas Project has also appeared on a list of projects that the federal government plans to expedite in cooperation with state governments.

“The 15 identified major projects are estimated to contribute more than $72 billion in public and private investment and will support tens of thousands of jobs across Australia,” says an announcement on the environment department’s website.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said that the energy deal signed between the state and federal governments, in which NSW would provide energy supplies in return for funding was critical to the economy.

“The Commonwealth Government is a strong supporter of the Narrabri project, but the final decision is for NSW,” he said.

Submissions to the planning commission regarding the Narrabri Gas Project close on Monday.

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