Australia’s pariah projects: the fossil fuel proposals threatening to bust our climate goals

New Acland coal mine - Credit - Lock the Gate Alliance

Since January 2016, just after expressing support for the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, Australia’s major banks did something our climate simply cannot afford; they poured billions of dollars into projects and companies expanding the scale of the fossil fuel industry. Despite warnings from economists and scientists that our climate cannot afford a single additional expansion of the fossil fuel industry, it seems the banks are willing to fund these dirty projects no matter the cost to our climate, environment and human rights.

Even worse, there are plenty of dirty projects for the banks to choose from. According to the Office of the Chief Economist (Resources and Energy Major Projects List, December 2019), companies are pursuing at least 100 new or expansionary fossil fuel projects in Australia that would cost at least $149 billion. These include coal mines, coal ports, gas fields, gas pipelines, LNG terminals and oil fields. Meanwhile, according to data from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), as of April 2020 there was 286 MW of upgraded/expanded or proposed coal-fired power on the horizon, along with 3.4 GW of gas-fired generation, across 18 projects. This brings the total number of proposed projects to 118.

The greenhouse gas footprint of these projects would be enormous. Just four of the projects listed by the Office of the Chief Economist would enable the release of 9.8 billion tonnes of CO2-e, enough to cancel out Australia’s emissions target (2021-2030) nearly 23 times over. (These projects include Woodside’s Burrup Hub [Pluto expansion, Scarborough, Browse and NWS extension] and Clive Palmer’s Galilee Coal and Rail Project.)

These are the projects we need to leave behind if we’re to limit warming to 1.5°C. The good news is you can help stop them by taking action as a customer, shareholder or citizen, telling the banks to reign in their splurging on climate-wrecking expansions of coal, oil and gas.

Emeritus Professor Will Steffen explains there is no room for new coal, oil or gas projects if we’re to limit global warming in line with the Paris Agreement

Take Action

Send a message to Australia’s big four banks, urging them to cease funding of expansionary fossil fuel projects:

What are the biggest threats to our climate and who is responsible for them?

By far the most significant threats were listed by data from the Office of the Chief Economist, which counted at least 100 new or expansionary fossil fuel projects in Australia that would cost at least $149 billion. Here are those projects:

Coal mines and ports, gas fields and pipelines, LNG terminals and oil fields (Office of the Chief Economist, December 2019)

wdt_ID Fossil Fuel Category Project Company State Type Status Estimated New Capacity Capacity Unit Resource Cost Estimate $m Estimated Start Commercial Operation
Fossil Fuel Category State

With so many threats to our climate, it’s difficult to know which to act on most urgently and it’s easy to become paralysed trying to answer that question. Instead, based on experience and public information, we pulled together what we think are the most urgent projects to counter. It’s by no means comprehensive but it’s a start.

Contents

  1. Coal mines
    1. New Acland Stage 3 (New Hope Coal)
    2. Winchester South (Whitehaven Coal)
    3. Olive Downs (Pembroke Resources)
    4. Galilee Coal and Rail Project (Waratah Coal / Clive Palmer)
    5. Alpha Coal Project (GVK, Hancock)
    6. South Galilee Coal Project (AMCI, Bandanna)
  2. Gas fields
    1. Burrup Hub (Woodside Energy)
    2. Beetaloo Basin (Origin Energy)
    3. Narrabri Gas Project (Santos)
    4. Surat Gas Project (PetroChina, Shell)
    5. Barossa Gas Field (Santos)
    6. Greater Sunrise gas field (Woodside, Osaka Gas)
  3. Coal and gas-fired power

Coal mines

In May 2020, the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) released a wish-list of coal mining projects it’s lobbying the Queensland state government to expedite. Dubbed the ‘top 5 mining priorities’, the list confusingly names 6 coal mines, four of which already have approved environmental impact statements (EIS), one of which is awaiting a draft EIS from the proponent, and the other of which is in the High Court. Still, this desperate PR stunt lays bare just some of the mines that are front of mind for the coal industry including:

New Acland Stage 3 (New Hope Coal)

The New Acland Stage 3 coal mine in south-east Queensland, proposed by publicly listed Australian coal mining company New Hope, would involve three new mine pits (named Manning Vale West, Manning Vale East and Willeroo) and is expected to produce 80.4 million ‘product tonnes’ of coal. If all this coal were combusted, it would release another 174 million tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere, equivalent to 40% of Australia’s 2021-2030 greenhouse gas abatement target (absent the use of dodgy Kyoto carryover credits). Further, the project would extend the life of the established New Acland coal mine beyond 2030, when OECD countries like Australia need to exit thermal coal if we’re to align with the Paris Agreement’s climate goals.

New Acland Stage 3 is the subject of a high court challenge from the Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA) representing 60 landholders, while the existing mining operation is under investigation by state and federal regulators amid allegations it unlawfully mined $500 million of coal in an area which had never been applied for.

According to an article published via Bloomberg Professional on 15 Jan 2019, ANZ, CAT Finance, NAB, Macquarie and Mizuho provided New Hope Coal with $600 million which the coal miner stated “will be sufficient for the Company to also fund its medium term growth projects including New Acland Stage 3”. It’s unclear whether this debt provides all or only part of the funding requirements for New Acland Stage 3, though in any case these lenders should consider withdrawing their funding and pledge not to recommit funding in future.

New Acland coal mine - Credit - Lock the Gate Alliance
New Acland coal mine, south-east Queensland. Credit: Lock the Gate Alliance (CC BY 2.0)

Winchester South (Whitehaven Coal)

Winchester South is being pursued by Whitehaven Coal, which (like New Hope Coal) is one of the 22 biggest Australian companies dragging us in completely the wrong direction on climate change by expanding the scale of the fossil fuel sector and/or relying on scenarios consistent with the failure of the Paris Agreement to justify their future business prospects.

According to Whitehaven Coal, there are 430 million tonnes of ‘coal resources’ at Winchester South, which it states “is our first major investment in Queensland’s coal industry and will entail approximately $1 billion in expenditure, inclusive of the mining fleet”.

Whitehaven coal trucks.

As of June 2020, Whitehaven is yet to submit a draft an EIS for the project, which Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is urging the Queensland Government:

“should take into account the entire project’s contribution to climate change and related impacts on biodiversity. This in turn, will need detailed water studies based on an Independent Expert Scientific Committee assessment and a human health assessment plus a cost benefit assessment of the entire project over 30 years”.

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), June 2019

Olive Downs (Pembroke Resources)

Pembroke Resources bills itself as ‘an Australian-based company’ focused on developing ‘the Olive Downs Coking Coal Complex’. Pembroke states “Fully developed, the Olive Downs Coking Coal Project will be  among the largest metallurgical coal mines in the world, producing up to 15 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per annum for almost 80 years”. Meanwhile, according to IPCC analysis, holding warming to 1.5°C will require emissions from industry, including steel making, to fall by around 40% from 2010 levels by 2030 and more than 80% by 2050.

In May 2019, ABC News reported that Olive Downs ‘may impact koala habitat the size of Sydney Harbour’.

“A new Queensland coal mine, about the same size as Adani’s controversial project, did not draw opposition from environmentalists during the approval process, despite the possibility an expansive koala habitat the size of Sydney Harbour may be cleared. About 55 square kilometres of koala habitat will be cleared, with the coordinator-general recommending a significant offset to protect the vulnerable species. The mine site, considered one of Australia’s biggest, also includes 11 highly significant wetlands.”

ABC News, 15 May 2019

It was reported in October 2018 that Pembroke had hired Swiss multinational investment bank UBS to consider the financing options for the project. However, it appears nothing came of it as not much was heard regarding finance for the project until May 2020, when it was reported that ICA Partners was hired to seek project finance for the mine.

The big four Australian banks are almost certainly being approached to fund the project and must turn it away.

Galilee Coal and Rail Project (Waratah Coal / Clive Palmer)

This project has gone by a few names over the years, having been known as the ‘Alpha North Coal Project’, ‘China First’ and the ‘Galilee Coal Project’. Whatever you want to call it, it’s Clive Palmer’s giant $6.4 billion proposal to mine up to 1.4 billion tonnes of thermal coal at a rate of up to 56 million tonnes per year. As of December, Waratah Coal (owned by Clive Palmer) reportedly planned to haul the coal to Adani’s Abbot Point coal port, where it would be shipped to China. According to Queensland’s Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), the combustion of the coal would generate around 2.9 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the mine’s 30-35 year lifespan, equivalent to ~5.5 times Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in the calendar year 2019. This is a carbon cost we simply can’t afford.

In May 2020, EDO announced it was heading to court on behalf of young Queenslanders and landholders, bringing a human rights challenge against the mine.

“EDO lawyers on behalf of Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance will for the first time argue that the climate change this mine will help fuel breaches the human rights of young people because their lives in the future will be at increased risk from bushfires, disease, floods, heatwaves and cyclones – impacting their right to life.”

Environmental Defenders Office

Alpha Coal Project (GVK, Hancock)

The Alpha Coal Project is a joint venture between Indian conglomerate GVK (79% ownership) and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting (21% ownership) who describe the mine as the “jewel in the crown of the Galilee”. This ‘jewel’ would produce around 7.9 billion tonnes of thermal coal at a rate of up to 32 million tonnes per year over 30 years, requiring $6.8 billion of investment in the mine and $4 billion for the rail component. Farmers, landowners and conservation groups have opposed the mine due to its potential local water and environmental impacts as well as broader climate change impacts. Since 2013, project opponents have challenged the project approvals and leasing conditions through the courts.

South Galilee Coal Project (AMCI, Bandanna)

The South Galilee Coal Project is a 50-50 joint venture between subsidiaries of AMCI Group and Bandanna Energy. The $4.2 billion project plans to mine 447 million tonnes of thermal coal at a rate of up to 17 million tonnes per annum for over 33 years. The project received final state and federal approvals in 2014 and 2015. That is despite Bandanna Energy entering into voluntary administration in 2014 after failing to secure contracts for their Springsure Creek project, a different coal mine based in Queensland’s Bowen Basin.

Gas fields

Burrup Hub (Woodside Energy)

Woodside Energy is Australia’s largest gas producer whose sights are set on extracting 20 to 25 trillion cubic feet of gas, primarily for export as LNG, through its Burrup Hub projects in north-west Western Australia. The Burrup Hub comprises multiple climate-wrecking gas projects, including ‘Browse to North West Shelf’, ‘North West Shelf project extension’ and the Scarborough gas fields.

“The Burrup Hub would be the most polluting project ever to be developed in Australia, delivering some of the world’s dirtiest LNG for up to 50 years. With estimated total emissions of over 6 billion tonnes (gigatons) of carbon pollution across its lifetime, the proposal has profound implications for the global climate across generations.”

Piers Verstegen, Director, Conservation Council of Western Australia

According to Woodside’s own figures, Scope 1, 2 and 3 lifetime emissions from Burrup Hub projects would be up to 6.88 Gt CO2-e, nearly 13 times Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions for calendar year 2019. This includes up to 1,615 Mt CO2 from the ‘Browse to North West Shelf’ project, 4,394 Mt CO2 from the ‘North West Shelf project extension’ and 878 Mt CO2 from the Scarborough gas fields.

In October 2019, ANZ and Westpac each loaned to Woodside, supporting development of Pluto LNG Train 2 (Pluto 2), which is part of the Burrup Hub and would enable Woodside to export an additional 5 million tonnes of LNG per annum from its Scarborough gas fields.

Burrup Hub project infographic
ANZ, CommBank and NAB all loaned to Australia’s largest oil & gas company Woodside Energy, which is pursuing the Burrup Hub gas project. Image source: Clean Slate & CCWA

Beetaloo Basin (Origin Energy)

Origin Energy plans to frack the Beetaloo Gas Field, approximately 180km south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory. The project is opposed by Traditional Owner advocates such as SEED, Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network. SEED views the Beetalo project and broader plans to frack gas in the Northern Territory as a threat to community self determination, Traditional Owner land rights and the climate.

According to Professor Ian Lowe of Griffith University, “approving the proposed development of shale gas from the Beetaloo Sub-Basin or McArthur Basin would add very significantly to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in the critical period before 2030, when we are required by the Paris agreement to achieve significant reductions”. In March 2020, Origin announced a pause to its Beetaloo exploration program, stating it plans a “resumption of activities later in the year”.

“Emissions from development of onshore shale gas in the Northern Territory may be difficult to offset and could impact on Australia’s progress in meeting Paris Agreement commitments”

Australian Department of the Environment and Energy, as reported by ABC News

Narrabri Gas Project (Santos)

Santos is one of Australia’s largest gas producers and is focused on developing its $3.6 billion Narrabri Gas Project, based in northern New South Wales. Santos could extract up to 200 terajoules (TJ) of gas per day over 20 years through unconventional gas extraction known as fracking. If combusted, 200 TJ of gas would release 10,000 tonnes of CO2-e, equivalent to the annual emissions of between 3,300 – 6,600 cars.

Expert reviews of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement detail significant and unaddressed issues with the project. These range from impacts to groundwater and local bushland to Aboriginal cultural heritage and the project’s financial viability. The NSW Department of Planning and Environment received 23,000 submissions in response to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, stating ”this is the most submissions the Department has ever received on a development application”. 98% of total and 64% of local submissions opposed the project. In March 2020, the NSW Government referred the project to the NSW Independent Planning Commission for the final assessment, which will include a public hearing. Even if the project is approved, Santos still needs to secure finance to develop the project.

“Total GHG emissions from the use of Narrabri gas would approach those of coal”

Dr Andrew Grogan, April 2020
Narrabri residents say no to coal seam gas. Credit - Lock the Gate Alliance / Joseph McGrath
Narrabri residents say no to coal seam gas. Credit: Lock the Gate Alliance / Jarra Joseph-McGrath (CC BY 2.0)

Surat Gas Project (PetroChina, Shell)

Arrow Energy, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell (50%) and PetroChina (50%), is developing the Surat gas project. The$10 billion project is based 160km west of Brisbane in the Surat Basin and is expected to produce 5,000 petajoules (PJ) of coal seam gas for LNG export and domestic gas sales over its 35 year lifespan. The scope 1, 2 and 3 lifetime emissions from the project would be 70 million tonnes of CO2-e according to project documentation, equivalent to ~16% of Australia’s emissions reduction goals (2021-2030).

Barossa gas field (Santos)

Santos is majority owner of the Barossa project, an offshore gas field located 300 km north of Darwin. Santos reports the field contains over 5 trillion cubic feet of gas which it intends to supply to Darwin LNG facilities. The project would involve a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) facility, up to nine subsea production wells, and gas export pipeline to coastal gas facilities. Santos was expecting to make a ‘final investment decision’ on the $7 billion Barossa project in early 2020 but delayed the decision in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and the oil price crash.

Greater Sunrise gas field (Woodside, Osaka Gas)

The Greater Sunrise gas field is based in the Timor Sea, between Australia and Timor-Leste. The project sparked diplomatic tensions as Australia and Timor-Leste tussled over claims to the 5 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves. After years of negotiation, the countries signed a treaty in 2018 to clarify resource sharing arrangements. At the time of writing, the project was owned by state company Timor GAP (57%), Woodside Energy (33%) and Japanese energy company, Osaka Gas (10%).

Coal and gas-fired power

According to data from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), as of April 2020 there was 135 MW of upgraded and 151 MW of proposed coal-fired power on the horizon, along with 3.4 GW of gas-fired generation, across a combined 18 projects. This is despite there being no room for new fossil fuel generation if we’re to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to leading economists at Oxford University and the head of the International Energy Agency.

Coal and gas-fired power stations being pursued in NSW, QLD, SA, TAS and VIC (AEMO, April 2020)

wdt_ID Fossil Fuel Category Site Name Owner FuelBucketSummary Nameplate Capacity (MW) StatusBucketSummary
Fossil Fuel Category FuelBucketSummary

The emerging coal and gas-fired threats to our climate include:

AGL protest
  • Hunter Energy’s planned recommissioning of the 150 MW Redbank coal-fired power station in NSW that was shut down 5 years ago. Westpac and BankWest (a subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank) funded the plant back in 2004.
  • EnergyAustralia’s proposal to build a new 600-800 MW combined cycle gas-fired power plant in Marulan near Goulburn in New South Wales. All big four banks have made loans to EnergyAustralia.
  • AGL’s proposed Tarrone Power Project, a 500-600 MW open cycle gas-fired power plant near Macarthur, Victoria. All big four banks made loans to AGL as recently as Sep 2019.

Beyond the proposals listed above are several absurd fossil fuel pipe dreams including:

  • Shine Energy’s proposal to build a 1,000 MW coal-fired power station in Queensland, for which it has still not received $4m in promised government funding for a feasibility study (as of Jun 2020) and doubts government support is genuine.
  • Trevor St Baker’s dream of building coal power stations to replace Hazelwood and Vales Point A, which the Australian Financial Review noted banks are reluctant to fund.
  • Kaisun Holdings’s proposed 2,000 MW Hunter Economic Zone (HEZ) coal-fired power station, a ridiculous proposal that would require a $2 billion government subsidy according to IEEFA.