The Queen’s Birthday Honours honour Australia’s climate trajectory

Ketan Joshi
Jun 8, 2020 · 4 min read

The latest batch of Queens Birthday Honours was released, and there are a few big names. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott — a man once declared wind farms ‘visually awful’ and coal ‘good for humanity’, is there, as is former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop (“This idea of a climate emergency is just rubbish, as are those poor unfortunate doomsday cult figures holding up traffic in Brisbane demanding action on climate change”). Someone named Brian Lasky won an Order of Australia Medal for “services to golf”.

One name on the list stood out.

“Mr Colin David Beckett — Western Australia — AO For distinguished service to business in the energy, gas and oil production and infrastructure sectors, and to tertiary education”

Beckett is a big name in Australia’s oil and gas industry — one of the biggest. He is former chairman and member of the Australian Petroleum Producers and Explorers Association (APPEA), the core lobby group. And for nine years, he oversaw an incredible and significant fossil gas project in Western Australia, called Gorgon. It is timely, because that project ties in perfectly with Australia’s broader climate trajectory.

What’s Gorgon?

A fossil gas extraction project off the coast of Western Australia, on a class A nature reserve named Barrow Island. When you remove gas from the ground, there is a very high emissions cost associated with the process of removal, and with the process of refinement. Gorgon is big, and these emissions are so high, than in 2018 half of the annual rise in emissions was pinpointed solely to this single project pulling gas from the ground.

That was never meant to happen. “Chevron’s Gorgon Carbon Project on Track for Injection in 2015", read headlines in 2010. The gas extraction was approved on the grounds 40% of associated emissions would be captured and injected back underground:

Via Chevron

Five years later, and the project only just started, despite this carbon capture being part of the condition of operation. The capture process was delayed more than two years, thanks to ‘technical difficulties’. The mind-boggling emissions intensity of the act of extracting fossil fuels from the ground (that’s before it’s even burnt) means the owner — Chevron — is now deep in carbon debt.

Gorgon was beset by delays for many years. Rumours swirled that the reason Colin Beckett left was due to delays in getting the extraction process up and running, even before delays in capturing carbon.

It is, in many ways, a perfect reminder of how the promise of carbon capture serves to very effectively facilitate increased emissions. Not only did the two year delay lead to an extremely significant emissions impact, these emissions could be entirely avoided by simply not extracting fossil gas and using zero emissions fuels like wind, solar and water instead.

Gorgon and the bigger picture

Even if the emissions from extraction were zero, fossil gas still releases greenhouse gases when it’s burned as a fuel. In fact, Chevron’s latest corporate sustainability report shows that the majority of the company’s carbon footprint comes not from the extraction of their product, but from the normal use of its products:

Australia’s latest release of greenhouse gas data shows that ‘fugitive emissions — mostly associated with gas extraction — are one of the key drivers of Australia’s rising climate debt:

Gorgon’s carbon capture project was incredibly expensive, with $60m AUD coming from government money. The costs of doing the same for Australia’s future emissions would be significantly more expensive. What we know for sure is that if these emissions capture tools are delayed, it has no impact on extraction operations — companies simply continue with their activities.

It is, unfortunately, a trend forecast to continue — Australia is still set to badly miss its Paris climate targets. Part of that comes down to the false promise of carbon capture, which has delayed the simple and 100% effective emissions reduction tool of leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

Here are some other award recipients with contributions to mining in their honours:

Mr Ryan Kerry Stokes NSW AO For distinguished service to business, particularly in the media, mining and construction sectors, to cultural institutions, and to mental health and sporting groups.

Stokes — son of billionaire media mogul Kerry Stokes — is a director of West Australian mining company Beach Energy, and owns several media outlets that have been actively hostile to climate action.

“Ron Boswell…has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to federal parliament, to the people of Queensland, and to fisheries research and development” (source)

Boswell has opposed action on climate change for many years.

Mr Ronald Brown Manners WA AO For distinguished service to the minerals and mining sectors, and to youth through philanthropic support for educational initiatives.

Manners was responsible for founding the ‘Mannkal Foundation’. It’s a Perth-based Libertarian thinktank associated with many that reject climate science (the ‘Atlas network’). A selection of his recent tweets, below, showcasing his contribution to “youth”:

LobbyWatch

How companies and industry associations influence politics and policy in Australia

LobbyWatch

LobbyWatch is a project run by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR). We document and discuss the ways in which companies and industry associations (‘trade associations’ or lobby groups) influence politics and policy in Australia. #lobbywatchau

Ketan Joshi

Written by

Anecdata analysis, research, writing, caffeine. Science, tech and data communications professional in Sydney.

LobbyWatch

LobbyWatch is a project run by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR). We document and discuss the ways in which companies and industry associations (‘trade associations’ or lobby groups) influence politics and policy in Australia. #lobbywatchau

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