Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Oil giants play loose with facts on gas

Sydney Morning Herald
23 April 2011, Page: 17

SENIOR executives in the fossil fuel industry have launched an all out assault on renewable energy, lobbying governments and business groups to reject wind and solar power in favour of gas, in a move that could choke the green energy industry.

Multinational companies including Shell, GDF Suez and Statoil are promoting gas as an alternative green fuel. These firms are among dozens worldwide investing in new technologies to exploit shale gas, a controversial form of the fuel that has rejuvenated the gas industry because it is in plentiful supply and newly accessible because of technical advances in gas extraction that are known as fracking.

Burning gas in power stations releases about half the carbon emissions of coal, allowing gas companies to claim it is a green source of fuel. For the past two months company lobbyists have been besieging governments in Europe, the US and elsewhere. Central to the lobbying effort is a report saying that the European Union could meet its 2050 carbon targets more cheaply, avoiding costs of 990 billion ($1.3 trillion), by using gas rather than investing in renewables.

However, The Guardian has established that the analysis is based on a previous report that came to the opposite conclusion: that renewables should play a much larger role. The report being pushed by the fossil fuel industry has been disowned by its original authors, who referred to it as biased in favour of gas. The new report relies on questionable assumptions about the future price of technology to capture and store carbon.

The team at the European Climate Foundation that produced the original report described the new version, commissioned by the European Gas Advocacy Forum, as "biased to one preferential outcome in support of gas advocacy". It warns that adopting its conclusions would expose the European economy to volatile gas prices.

Further doubt has been thrown on the industry's claims by an academic study from Cornell University which found that generating electricity from shale gas produced at least as much CO₂ as coalfired power, and perhaps more, because of the difficulty in extracting the gas. James Smith, outgoing British chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the leaders in the lobbying effort, said switching to gas would offer the world a "breathing space" in the battle against climate change.

This view was challenged by David Mackay, chief scientific adviser to Britain's Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. He said: "You can't reach the [climate] targets like this. There is no way that switching to gas would solve the problem. I don't think it's really credible that gas is the only future". Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said gas was "complementary to renewables, as it could be turned on and off quickly, could be baseload power and [avoid use of] coal".