Equinor has abandoned oil-drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight – so what’s next?



DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

Madeline Taylor, University of Sydney and Tina Soliman Hunter

This week’s decision by Norwegian company Equinor to abandon a A$200 million plan to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight surprised both its critics and backers.

Equinor says it abandoned the project off the remote South Australian coast because it was not “commercially competitive”.

But the plan was flawed from its inception. It was out of step with the investment community’s reduced appetite for frontier fossil fuel exploration, and growing concern about financial exposure to carbon risk. A broad section of the community opposed it on environmental grounds, including the potential for a possibly catastrophic oil spill.




Read more:
Drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight would be disastrous for marine life and the local community


Equinor is the third major oil company to abandon plans to drill in the bight, following BP and Chevron. But the company will remain active in Australia, pointing to an offshore exploration permit off Western Australia. There is also speculation that another company may take over its permit in the bight.

Equinor’s decision is an important win for many Australians, but we cannot rest on our laurels. Reform of Australia’s offshore petroleum laws is urgently required to permanently protect our precious marine environment.

The Great Australian Bight is a unique ecosystem and must be protected.
Sascha Grant/Flickr, CC BY

A risky endeavour

In May last year, a group of multi-disciplinary experts, including the authors of this article, made a submission to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), highlighting the risks inherent in Equinor’s proposal.

Exploratory drilling has taken place in the Bight since the 1960s. However, Equinor’s proposal involved drilling 370km off the coast in waters up to 2,500 metres deep. This brought extra technical complexity and made the proposal very expensive and environmentally risky.

Equinor’s well would have been located in the Ceduna sub-basin, off southern Australia.
NOPSEMA

Equinor’s environment plan also made overly optimistic assumptions and was inadequate in many ways, including the following:

– Environmental risk

Equinor said it was committed to ecologically sustainable development and would adhere to relevant environment regulations.

However, we believe the company did not comprehensively demonstrate how it would mitigate impacts on endangered species found within its well area.

Many species listed as threatened may have been affected by the drilling activities. These include a total of 28 listed migratory species, 20 listed marine species (including the endangered southern right whale, sea lions, dolphins, southern bluefin tuna and sharks) and five listed cetacean species.

Among the shortcomings in the environment plan, it did not outline how drilling would indirectly and directly affect the capacity of listed threatened species to restore their poulations, as is required under the Commonwealth Environment Act.

The Conversation contacted Equinor for a response to this criticism. Equinor said its environment plan “was accepted by the independent regulator in December 2019. The plan submitted and accepted demonstrated our ability to drill the exploration well safely”.

– Public consultation

Equinor conducted only limited public consultation – within a 40-kilometre radius of the well site. This excluded many relevant parties with a shared concern for the local environment.

The consultation approach also ignored the fact that if a significant accident occurred, such as the worst-case oil spill, there was a risk of harm to communities thousands of kilometres away.

It was particularly egregious that Equinor failed to consult any Indigenous organisations despite numerous Indigenous sea and land title claims that may have been affected by a spill.

Equinor also excluded 18 coastal councils from consultation, as well as conservation groups.

In response to this criticism, Equinor said it “engaged broadly with the community to provide information about our company and our plans for the Stromlo-1 exploration well, holding more than 400 meetings with stakeholders”. It said the consultation process complied with relevant legislation.

– Oil spill modelling

Equinor took a very conservative approach to oil spill modelling. Its modelling of the “worst case discharge scenario” predicted a far lower oil flow rate than modelling by BP in 2016 for the same well location.

But the scenarios Equinor developed would still have amounted to a catastrophic and unprecedented environmental event: a discharge of 42,387 barrels per day until the well was killed after 102 days, or 4,323,478 barrels of oil in total. This is a similar to the amount of oil estimated to have entered the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In response, Equinor said its oil spill maps “do not represent what a single spill would look like, or the area it would affect. To make sure we have planned for anything that could possibly happen, regardless of how unlikely it is, legislation requires us to form a single map by superimposing 100 different simulations of a worst-case oil spill under varying weather conditions”.

Why did Equinor jump ship?

Equinor says it abandoned its plans for commercial reasons – the same reason cited by BP and Chevron.

The company’s decision came just weeks after the federal regulator granted environmental approval to the company’s proposed Stromlo-1 well after three failed attempts.

So after pouring so much money and effort into the project, why would Equinor jump ship now? We believe other factors were also at play.




Read more:
Noise from offshore oil and gas surveys can affect whales up to 3km away


First, the project failed to gain a social licence. Public surveys showed 60% of people nationally and 68% of people in South Australia opposed Equinor’s plans.

Second, it faced ongoing legal hurdles. The Wilderness Society had mounted a Federal Court challenge to the environmental approval over Equinor’s failure to consult relevant parties.

Third, and more broadly, much of the world is moving away from fossil fuels. The European Investment Bank is phasing out fossil fuel financing and the International Energy Agency has called on oil and gas companies to lower their emissions, warning that not doing so “could threaten their long-term social acceptability and profitability”.

Europe is moving away from oil, in a move that threatens the offshore petroleum industry.
DIAMOND OFFSHORE DRILLING INTERNATIONAL

So what now?

Australia’s oil and gas industry is not going away. So in light of the risks, how do we protect marine life into the future? The answers may come from Equinor’s home country Norway.

The Norwegian government owns a two-thirds stake in Equinor. The government’s pension fund has announced plans to divest A$17 billion worth of fossil fuel stocks, and Equinor itself aims to reduce emissions from offshore fields and onshore plants in Norway by 40% by 2030, and to near zero by 2050.




Read more:
It’s time to speak up about noise pollution in the oceans


In Norway, oil wells are operated in accordance with a standard requiring companies to demonstrate “fitness to drill” before work begins. This is not required under Australian regulations, which apply the lesser standard of “good oilfield practice”.

In developing petroleum resources, The Norwegian Petroleum Act requires titleholders to take “a long-term perspective for the benefit of Norwegian society as a whole”. This requires contributions to the welfare, employment and improved environment of the nation.

Australia’s Equinor experience has made one thing very clear: in protecting both our environment and the interests of future generations of Australians from the effects of fossil fuel extraction, this nation still has a lot to learn.

Greg Bourne contributed to this article.The Conversation

Madeline Taylor, Academic Fellow, University of Sydney and Tina Soliman Hunter, Professor of Petroleum and Resources Law

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Critical minerals are vital for renewable energy. We must learn to mine them responsibly


Bénédicte Cenki-Tok, University of Sydney

As the world shifts away from fossil fuels, we will need to produce enormous numbers of wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles and batteries. Demand for the materials needed to build them will skyrocket.

This includes common industrial metals such as steel and copper, but also less familiar minerals such as the lithium used in rechargeable batteries and the rare earth elements used in the powerful magnets required by wind turbines and electric cars. Production of many of these critical minerals has grown enormously over the past decade with no sign of slowing down.

Australia is well placed to take advantage of this growth – some claim we are on the cusp of a rare earths boom – but unless we learn how to do it in a responsible manner, we will only create a new environmental crisis.

What are critical minerals?

Critical minerals” are metals and non-metals that are essential for our economic future but whose supply may be uncertain. Their supply may be threatened by geopolitics, geological accessibility, legislation, economic rules or other factors.

One consequence of a massive transition to renewables will be a drastic increase not only in the consumption of raw materials (including concrete, steel, aluminium, copper and glass) but also in the diversity of materials used.

Three centuries ago, the technologies used by humanity required half a dozen metals. Today we use more than 50, spanning almost the entire periodic table. However, like fossil fuels, minerals are finite.




Read more:
Metals and minerals will be the next finite resource shortfall


Can we ‘unlearn’ renewables to make them sustainable?

If we take a traditional approach to mining critical minerals, in a few decades they will run out – and we will face a new environmental crisis. At the same time, it is still unclear how we will secure supply of these minerals as demand surges.

This is further complicated by geopolitics. China is a major producer, accounting for more than 60% of rare earth elements, and significant amounts of tungsten, bismuth and germanium.

This makes other countries, including Australia, dependent on China, and also means the environmental pollution due to mining occurs in China.

The opportunity for Australia is to produce its own minerals, and to do so in a way that minimises environmental harm and is sustainable.

Where to mine?

Australia has well established resources in base metals (such as gold, iron, copper, zinc and lead) and presents an outstanding potential in critical minerals. Australia already produces almost half of lithium worldwide, for example.

Existing and potential sites for mining critical minerals.
Geoscience Australia

In recent years, Geoscience Australia and several universities have focused research on determining which critical minerals are associated with specific base ores.

For example, the critical minerals gallium and indium are commonly found as by-products in deposits of lead and zinc.

To work out the best places to look for critical minerals, we will need to understand the geological processes that create concentrations of them in the Earth’s crust.

Critical minerals are mostly located in magmatic rocks, which originate from the Earth’s mantle, and metamorphic rocks, which have been transformed during the formation of mountains. Understanding these rocks is key to finding critical minerals and recovering them from the bulk ores.

Magmatic rocks such as carbonatite may contain rare earth elements.
Bénédicte Cenki-Tok, Author provided

Fuelling the transition

For most western economies, rare earth elements are the most vital. These have electromagnetic properties that make them essential for permanent magnets, rechargeable batteries, catalytic converters, LCD screens and more. Australia shows a great potential in various deposit types across all states.

The Northern Territory is leading with the Nolans Bore mine already in early-stage operations. But many other minerals are vital to economies like ours.

Cobalt and lithium are essential to ion batteries. Gallium is used in photodetectors and photovoltaics systems. Indium is used for its conductive properties in screens.

Critical minerals mining is seen now as an unprecedented economic opportunity for exploration, extraction and exportation.

Recent agreements to secure supply to the US opens new avenues for the Australian mining industry.

How can we make it sustainable?

Beyond the economic opportunity, this is also an environmental one. Australia has the chance to set an example to the world of how to make the supply of critical minerals sustainable. The question is: are we willing to?

Many of the techniques for creating sustainable minerals supply still need to be invented. We must invest in geosciences, create new tools for exploration, extraction, beneficiation and recovery, treat the leftover material from mining as a resource instead of waste, develop urban mining and find substitutes and effective recycling procedures.

In short, we must develop an integrated approach to the circular economy of critical minerals. One potential example to follow here is the European EURARE project initiated a decade ago to secure a future supply of rare earth elements.

More than ever, we need to bridge the gap between disciplines and create new synergies to make a sustainable future. It is essential to act now for a better planet.The Conversation

Bénédicte Cenki-Tok, Associate professor at Montpellier University, EU H2020 MSCA visiting researcher, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I walked 1,200km in the outback to track huge lizards. Here’s why



Sophie Cross, Author provided

Sophie Cross, Curtin University

In 2017 and 2018 I walked the equivalent of 28 marathons in the scorching Western Australian outback. Why, you ask? To assess how some of Australia’s largest lizard species interact with restored mines.

As part of my PhD research, I hiked in often extreme heat on a mine site in WA’s sparsely populated Mid West region. My fieldwork was both physically and mentally demanding, as I spent many hours each day walking through the bush looking for signs of monitor lizards.

Being in a remote location and mostly alone, I had plenty of time to ponder the wisdom of my career choice, particularly on days when temperatures exceeded 40℃ and not even the lizards ventured from their homes.

Pushing through these mental challenges was difficult at times, but my work has provided me with some of my most rewarding experiences. And what I discovered may be crucial for restoring habitats destroyed by mining.

Restoring abandoned mines

Habitat loss is a leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. Although mining typically has a smaller environmental footprint than other major industries such as agriculture or urbanisation, roughly 75% of active mines are on land with high conservation value.




Read more:
Afterlife of the mine: lessons in how towns remake challenging sites


There are around 60,000 abandoned mines in Australia, but very few of them have been officially closed. How to restore them is a growing public policy problem.

Sophie Cross walked more than 1,200km and tracked a young-adult perentie to find out whether they were using a restored mining area.
Author provided

Recovering biodiversity can be an exceptionally challenging task. Animals are vital to healthy ecosystems, yet little is understood about how animals respond to restored landscapes.

In particular, reptiles are often overlooked in assessments of restoration progress, despite playing key roles in Australian ecosystems.




Read more:
What should we do with Australia’s 50,000 abandoned mines?


Do animals return to restored habitats?

I wanted to know whether restored habitats properly support the return of animals, or whether animals are only using these areas opportunistically or, worse still, avoiding them completely.

To study how reptiles behave in restored mining areas, I hand-caught and tracked a young adult perentie. The perentie is Australia’s largest lizard species, growing to around 2.5m in length, and is an apex predator in arid parts of the country.

I tracked the lizard for three weeks to determine whether it was using the restored area, before the tracker fell off during mating.

The tracking device revealed how the perentie navigated a restored mine, before it fell off during mating.
Author provided

Previous methods of tracking assume the animal used all locations equally. But I used a new method that measures both the frequency with which animals visit particular places, and the amount of time they spend there. This provided a valuable opportunity to assess how effective restoration efforts have been in getting animals to return.

Restoration needs more work

My research, published this week in the Australian Journal of Zoology, shows that while the perentie did visit the restored mine, it was very selective about which areas it visited, and avoided some places entirely. The lizard went on short foraging trips in the restored mine area, but regularly returned to refuge areas such as hollow logs.

The method used GPS and a VHF tracking antenna to follow the perentie.
Author provided

This is because hot, open landscapes with minimal refuges present high risks for reptiles, which rely on an abundance of coverage to regulate their body temperature and to avoid predators. Such costs may make these areas unfavourable to reptiles and limit their return to restored landscapes.

In comparison, undisturbed vegetation supported longer foraging trips and slower movement, without the need to return to a refuge area. Unfortunately, areas undergoing restoration often require exceptionally long time-periods for vegetation to resemble the pre-disturbed landscape.




Read more:
Why we’re not giving up the search for mainland Australia’s ‘first extinct lizard’


How can we help reptiles move back into restored areas?

Restored landscapes often lack key resources necessary for the survival of reptiles. As vegetation can require a long time to reestablish, returning fauna refuges like hollow logs and fauna refuge piles (composed of mounds of sand, logs, and branches) could be crucial to aiding in the return of animal populations.

My research team and I have called for animals to be considered to a greater extent in assessments of restoration success. In the face of increasing rates of habitat destruction, we need to understand how animals respond to habitat change and restoration.

Failing to do so risks leaving a legacy of unsustainable ecosystems and a lack of biodiversity.The Conversation

Sophie Cross, PhD candidate, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison wants to outlaw boycott campaigns. But the mining industry doesn’t need protection


Graeme Orr, The University of Queensland

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to craft new laws targeting social and political protest. Speaking to the Queensland Resources Council, he labelled some activist groups as environmental “anarchists”, and lamented how businesses like banks might be sensitive to consumer or protest group pressure to limit dealings with the mining industry.

These laws could ban activists from advocating for certain boycotts against companies. Morrison lambasted progressives, saying they:

want to tell you where to live, what job you can have, what you can say and what you can think – and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions.

Boycott laws already exist

The first thing to note is there is no proposal on the table. Morrison merely warned his government was:

working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices.

The existing law on boycotts has been driven by conservative governments. In the 1970s, the Fraser government sought to crack down on “secondary boycotts”, with stiff provisions in trade practices or competition law. Morrison also specifically invoked “secondary boycotts” in his speech.

A secondary boycott is simply pressure you put on someone you’re dealing with to have them “boycott”, or not deal with, another person or business. It’s considered secondary action because you have no particular beef with the person you are directly pressuring. The real target of your pressure is the “secondary” person or business down the chain.

It’s easy to imagine secondary boycotts most people would sympathise with. Going on strike to stop your employer dealing with overseas sweatshops, for instance.

The chief concern of secondary boycott law has been with union power. The fear was that a strong union, in a key sector like the wharfies unloading ships, could wield disproportionate social power through secondary boycotts.

As a result, unionised workers are now confined to industrial action, such as going on strike, to improve conditions in an enterprise bargain at their workplace.

Morrison wants to stop consumer pressure on banks

The focus of laws against secondary boycotts has never been against consumer groups or movements involving non-employees. There’s an obvious and good reason for this.

Encouraging or organising consumers to put pressure on one company to limit its dealings with a secondary “target” company is a form of political communication and association. These are freedoms the High Court has read into our constitution.

It might seem unfair to banks for consumers to organise boycotts against them to encourage a change in their business practices. The banks may see themselves as the meat in the sandwich, caught between activists and the mining industry.




Read more:
Cattle prods and welfare cuts: mounting threats to Extinction Rebellion show demands are being heard, but ignored


The Morrison government will not only try to sell this idea as a “get protesters” or “protect coal” initiative. He’ll also argue markets should be as free as possible and boycotts either distort competition or are an abuse of power. There are two problems with this.

Companies don’t need more protection

First, it’s a hard sell to pretend banks are the playthings of activist groups. Financial institutions look at mining investments across a range of risks, including their social brand and reputation.

Second, modern corporations, especially retail ones dealing with citizens every day, have long been aware of the social environment around business. They don’t trade in an economic bubble because economics has never been divorced from society.

Social media reinforces this reality by galvanising and magnifying consumer and activist sentiment.

Things would be different if activists could strong-arm one business to renege on an actual contract with another. It has long been against tort law (laws against “civil wrongs” like intimidation or tresspass) to leverage someone into breaking an agreement, without some justification.

But if a bank reneges on an existing funding deal with a mining company, say because protesters were blockading the bank’s offices, the miners would hardly have to go after the protesters.

The bank would be liable for damages to the mining company director. And the bank would only buckle under such pressure after a thorough cost-benefit analysis to itself.

Morrison also appealed to “quiet shareholders” in his remarks. He implied they were the real meat in the sandwich when businesses did not pursue a singular vision of putting today’s profits above long-term social reputation.




Read more:
Is the Morrison government ‘authoritarian populist’ with a punitive bent?


The irony here is that even company law is not solely about economics, shorn from social reality. Shareholders are entitled to be corporate activists, too.

Previous attempts at boycott legislation

In any case, you can expect the government to sell any proposal to expand secondary boycott law as one to protect smaller businesses, not the banks or big miners.

Last year, it heralded a proposal to criminalise the incitement of protesters trespassing to protect family farms. The law that was passed this year extends to all manner of primary production, including large-scale abattoirs.

We have seen similar kites aloft before. In 2007, Treasurer Peter Costello vowed to crack down on those who organised boycotts. He singled out animal welfare activist group PETA for encouraging a boycott of Australian wool in protest against the de-skinning of sheep.

In the end, Costello’s bill did not expand secondary boycott law. It just allowed the competition watchdog to take representative action on behalf of businesses affected by secondary boycotts. Labor waved it through.

This time, the stakes may be higher.The Conversation

Graeme Orr, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Attorney-General Christian Porter targets Market Forces in push against environment groups



Greenpeace members protesting at Newcastle port in 2017, calling on the Commonwealth Bank to stop investing in coal.
Jaz Kaelin

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has the activist group Market Forces squarely in its sights as it considers ways to stop environmental organisations persuading financial and other businesses to boycott companies in the mining sector.

It is also targeting funders of class actions, in its proposed crackdown on those running climate change campaigns that hit firms.

Attorney-General Christian Porter singled out Market Forces in a Monday statement that said he was co-ordinating advice across several portfolios on what could be done to protect resource businesses from such activism.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the government’s drought policy – and the trust divide in politics


Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday condemned “an escalating trend towards a new form of secondary boycotts” which had potentially serious economic consequences, especially for regional economies.

“Environmental groups are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don’t like, especially in the resources sector,” Morrison told the Queensland Resources Council.

Market Forces was launched in 2013, and is affiliated with Friends of the Earth. The organisation’s website says it “exposes” institutions, such as banks, superannuation funds and governments that are financing environmentally destructive projects.

Market Forces has lobbied heavily against Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine in central Queensland. Its website lists the companies it says have links to the project, and asks supporters to contact those companies to demand they cut ties.

A 2017 protest against the Commonwealth Bank over its then-links to mining giant Adani.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

The organisation’s chief executive Julien Vincent hit back at the government on Monday, saying that where it saw something it did not like “its response is to get it shut down”.

“We simply allow people to make informed decisions on who they do business with,” Vincent said.




Read more:
Low carbon economy can spur Australian “manufacturing boom”: Albanese


“That’s a right that we thought, until recently, that this government was prepared to uphold”.

But Porter said it was “simply not OK” for any Australian business to be targeted by groups seeking to do it financial harm “when all they are doing is working in an industry like mining and resources that a small number of domestic and international activists have an ideological objection to.

“There are a growing number of examples where we have seen radical activist groups like Market Forces that try and impose their political will on companies across the country through widespread, co-ordinated harassment and threats of boycotts,” he said.

The government was looking at multiple options, across portfolios, Porter said, and the work would be prepared urgently.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has announced the government will try to prevent activist groups from initiating boycotts against companies.
BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAP

The government was also considering regulatory action against “the growing presence of litigation funders who are receiving disproportionately large shares of payments in class action litigation which is becoming increasingly politicised by a focus on companies that operate in the mining and resources sector”.

Casting the net even wider, Porter said the government would consider other areas of activists’ “lawfare” which was “designed to delay, frustrate and cause unnecessary expense to mining and other legitimate commercial projects and businesses”.

Secondary boycotts are already outlawed under the competition and consumer legislation but there is an exemption where the dominant reason is for environmental or consumer protection.

An obvious course for the government would be to seek to remove the exemption.
Another option would be to remove the tax deductibility status of groups.

Labor has accused Morrison of “virtue signalling” in his planned attack on activist groups.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coal miners and urban greenies have one thing in common, and Labor must use it



Coal stockpiled before being loaded on to ships at a terminal in Gladstone. researchers say Labor should not “cozy up” to the coal industry.
Dave Hunt/AAP

Fabio Mattioli, University of Melbourne and Kari Dahlgren, London School of Economics and Political Science

Months after Labor’s shock election loss, it is still pondering how the Liberals metamorphosed from party of the bosses to party of the workers – one that stole an election win from under them.

At the May 18 federal election, several working class seats in Queensland did not fall into Labor’s hands as expected, and the party narrowly retained others in New South Wales with large negative swings.

They include the coal seat of Hunter, north of Sydney, where Labor’s resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon suffered a 10% swing against him. He this week claimed constituents were scared off by Labor’s ambitious emissions reduction goal – which necessarily entails curbing the burning of fossil fuels such as coal.

Fitzgibbon called on Labor to adopt the government’s weak emissions targets – a call that drew ire from some of his colleagues. But there is no doubt that since Labor’s election loss, the party has set about proving itself as pro-coal.




Read more:
Labor’s climate and resources spokesmen at odds over future policy


Days after the election, the controversial Adani mine received long-outstanding approvals from the Queensland Labor government, which also adopted a strong pro-coal message at its party conference. Federal Labor MPs were reportedly tripping over themselves to join the newly formed group Parliamentary Friends of Coal Exports.

But cosying up to coal is not the way forward for Labor. Instead, it must find the common ground that unites workers in the cities and the regions – job insecurity – and build a consensus for climate action on that basis.

Now-Labor leader Anthony Albanese in Brisbane in 2017, followed by anti-Adani protesters.
Darren England/AAP

Neo-liberalism has gutted coal communities

The rise in populist votes in Australia is to an extent part of a larger global movement spanning the UK’s Brexit vote, the election of US President Donald Trump, and the rise of far-right agitators across Europe. In Australia, as abroad, this process is the outcome of almost 50 years of neo-liberalism.

Large companies have departed from industrial heartlands, relocating abroad without implementing the same level of social protection and welfare. Blue-collar jobs have been supplanted by white- or pink-collar positions, offering careers in the immaterial world of finance and the service economy.

For some, this shift is not a bad thing, as it opens opportunities in less gruelling urban service jobs. But for working-class and coal communities, it means a loss of their way of life.

In their heyday, industrial factories were holistic experiences that synchronised workers’ lives to the rhythms of production. In coal communities, intergenerational attachments grew to the towns that were constructed to house mining workforces. So pervasive are the emotional attachments to mining that the prospect of moving into a different industry is not appealing to most. Not everyone wants to be a consultant, a service worker or a financial trader.

Office workers are seen on a lunch break at Martin Place in Sydney. Casualisation of the workforce is not confined to the mining industry.
AAP/Mich Tsikas

Labor is between a rock (of coal) and a hard place

This global trend pulls Labor in two directions. Urban workers in the services, finance or creative industries perceive climate change as the greatest threat to their futures and demand a transition from coal to renewables. Labor’s traditional base, however, is mining communities who feel threatened by the policies environmentalists are calling for.

Is there a way to navigate these apparently conflicting voter needs? Yes. But not by embracing coal and hoping city voters won’t notice. Instead, Labor must build a coalition across both coal communities and its urban base, recognising that the political issues around coal in Australia are about more than climate change.

The biggest threat to existing coal jobs is not climate policy, but the increased casualisation of the mining workforce. Coal miners are significant victims of what unions such as the the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union has termed the “permanent-casual rort”.




Read more:
How gig economy workers will be left short of super


Coal workers are increasingly employed on casual contracts through labour hire companies. They work the same shifts and do the same jobs for years, but are not entitled to paid holidays or sick leave and are liable to be sacked at any time.

Insecure jobs also mean casuals are less likely to raise safety concerns. In the past year there have been six Queensland mining fatalities, the highest rate in 20 years.

This shift is not confined to mining and industrial manufacturing. Fewer than half of working Australians have full-time permanent jobs. Employers such as rideshare service Uber and others in the gig economy offer flexibility in exchange for exploitation, insecurity, and a lack of workplace protections.

Like coal miners, people working in the immaterial economy – many of whom are concerned about climate change – also face increasingly insecure workplaces.
Yet few on the side of climate action see these commonalities, or think of coal communities as potential allies.

A CFMMEU video arguing against incensed workforce casualistaion.

Labor should broker a new kind of coalition

For Labor, a pro-coal message designed to win back coal miners will only alienate its urban base. Instead of flipping scripts between electorates, the party should build a broad coalition on the common job insecurity faced by both coal miners and urban, post-industrial workers.

This would create spaces of solidarity between environmentalists and miners. It would refocus the discussion from how environmental policy puts jobs at risk to how it can address workforce insecurity across industries.




Read more:
Coal mines can be closed without destroying livelihoods – here’s how


Labor’s existing “Just Transition” policy goes part-way there. But it allocated just $15 million over four years to administer redundancies, and fund worker training and economic diversification. Judging by the election result, coal communities were not convinced by it.

Labor should look to the US, where the proposed Green New Deal promises to cut climate pollution while creating millions of safe, stable jobs, whether in weather-proofing homes, expanding railways or making wind turbines. It is underpinned by the notion that structural reform to address inequality is central to climate policy.

Coal miners are not ignorant of the changing economics of their industry. But Labor will gain ground only if it devises a climate policy that is environmentally sound and offers protection against precarious employment.The Conversation

Fabio Mattioli, Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Melbourne and Kari Dahlgren, PhD in Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When it comes to climate change, Australia’s mining giants are an accessory to the crime



Australia’s major mining companies are significant contributors to global emissions.
Global Warming Images

Jeremy Moss, UNSW

There are many reasons for Australia’s absence from the podium of the the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week. No doubt it would send a poor message if emission reduction laggards such as Australia had taken centre stage.

But Australia is also the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquified natural gas. And by providing fossil fuel subsidies and exploration rights, the Australia federal government encourages its major mining companies to export more. This situation is now profoundly hostile to action on climate change.




Read more:
Australia’s energy exports increase global greenhouse emissions, not decrease them


The emissions produced from the fossil fuels extracted by Australia’s major gas, coal and oil producing companies – our “carbon majors” – such as BHP, Glencore and Yancoal, are now larger than all Australia’s domestic emissions.

While these companies, and Australia itself, have no legal responsibility for these “exported” emissions, morally it is comparable to selling uranium to a failed state or dumping medical waste unsafely. We understand the harm our exports cause, and are therefore at least partially culpable for the harms they cause.

We think in nations, not companies

Why aren’t Australian carbon majors considered to be responsible for addressing their emissions and their consequences? One reason is when we think about reducing emissions, we typically focus on the role of nations.

After all, it is nations that negotiate climate agreements, and their policies are substantially responsible for the contribution their citizens make to the problem of climate change.

But the impact of carbon majors is now so large, we must make the case for holding them responsible for the consequences.

In 2018 alone, BHP’s global fossil fuel production led to the emissions of the equivalent of 596 megatonnes (Mt) of CO₂-equivalent . Over the last 15 years BHP’s Australian coal operations have produced 1,863Mt of CO₂-e.

These figures would be significantly higher still if we included the remainder of the emissions since 1990, when the first major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed the risks of climate change and the consequences of emissions.

To put that in perspective, in 2018 BHP’s emissions from its global fossil fuel operations alone were more than the whole of Australia’s domestic emissions (534Mt CO₂-e) for 2018. If BHP were a country, the products it produces would cause emissions greater than those emitted by 25 million Australians.

As well as their current levels of production, many of the carbon majors hold vast reserves to be extracted in the future as well as new fossil fuel projects. Glencore, the largest coal mining company in Australia, reported in 2018 that they have 6,765Mt of measured metallurgic coal resources, and 1,565Mt of thermal coal in proved marketable reserves. Together, that’s the equivalent of 18,202Mt of CO₂, more than 34 times Australia’s 2018 carbon emissions.

Moral responsibility

But why should we hold the companies themselves responsible for these emissions? After all, except for the emissions created during the extraction process, they don’t themselves directly produce these emissions. For the most part, carbon majors contribute by being producers and suppliers of fossil fuels.

Like nations, carbon majors are seen as having responsibility only for emissions they have produced directly in operating a mine or transporting their commodities to port. This is the “territorial” model of emissions attribution.

Yet the responsibility of carbon majors is much greater than this territorial model suggests. To see how this might be the case, it is useful to draw on some basic moral and legal theory.




Read more:
Youth climate movement puts ethics at the center of the global debate


For example, a murderer or thief is directly responsible for the harm they cause their victim. They pulled a trigger or absconded with the money, and no-one else shares that direct blame.

But in the case where a person intends to shoot another person and I announce that I will sell them a gun — knowing full well what it will be used for — the responsibility for the murder no longer falls solely on the person who pulls the trigger. Given I sold the gun knowing that someone would be harmed, I am now an accomplice to the crime and should share at least some of the blame.

In this case, there is a relationship between my actions and the murder that ought to make me at least partially responsible.

In the case of carbon majors, by producing and selling fossil fuels which are, in turn, consumed in another country, they are complicit in the harm directly caused by their customer: the releasing of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere by consuming the fuel.

Australia’s carbon majors are accessories to the wrongful harm of climate change.

Shared blame

These companies of course point out they are not wholly responsible – other companies and people actually use the fossil fuels overseas, where the emissions count towards another country’s tally. But accepting even some fault for the effect of their exports is a huge increase in a company’s moral responsibility over what they currently admit.

What does this mean in practice? First of all, it means that they have a strong moral reason to stop contributing to the harm by appropriately cutting their fossil fuel operations in line with IPCC timeframes and take a fair share of their climate-related liabilities. They should also stop seeking support for fossil fuels through lobbyists, politicians, “think tanks” and industry groups.

It will be argued that such actions will be costly to the carbon majors. But unless we are willing to concede that it is acceptable to harm others without sanction or an end it sight, this is not a convincing response.




Read more:
Coal does not have an economic future in Australia


However as citizens, we also need to move beyond reducing our domestic emissions. As voters, investors and consumers, we share a responsibility for our exported emissions. Ending state and institutional support for carbon majors should now be a major focus of climate action.The Conversation

Jeremy Moss, Professor of Political Philosophy, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Adani has set a dangerous precedent in requesting scientists’ names



The Galilee waterhole is part of the area potentially affected by Adani’s Carmichael mine.
Stop Adani, CC BY-SA

Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

A freedom of information request has revealed Adani sought the names of CSIRO and Geoscience Australia scientists involved in reviewing groundwater management plans related to its proposed Carmichael mine.

Adani argued it required a list of people involved in the review so as to have “peace of mind” that it was being treated fairly and impartially on a scientific rather than a political basis.

Ten days before Adani’s request, Geoscience Australia’s acting director of groundwater advice and data reportedly raised concerns that Adani had “actively searched/viewed” his LinkedIn profile and that of a colleague.




Read more:
Interactive: Everything you need to know about Adani – from cost, environmental impact and jobs to its possible future


Significantly, Adani’s request to the government was made before CSIRO and Geoscience Australia had reported their review findings back to the Queensland government.

While the federal Department of the Environment and Energy reportedly declined to hand over the names, the fact the letter was sent in the first place is concerning. It fundamentally interferes with the capacity of individual scientists to provide clear and informed evaluation.

The letter obtained under freedom of information by environmental group Lock The Gate. Click to enlarge.
Lock the Gate

Was Adani denied procedural fairness?

In the absence of clear legislation to the contrary, government decision-makers have a general duty to accord “procedural fairness” to those affected by their decisions. While procedural fairness is protected by common law, Commonwealth legislation also provides some protection, and a breach of procedural fairness is a ground for judicial review.

What exactly constitutes procedural fairness varies from case to case. Fundamentally, the principles of procedural fairness acknowledge the power imbalance that can arise between an administrative decision-maker and an individual citizen. Traditionally, procedural fairness has two elements: the fair hearing rule and the rule against bias.

The fair hearing rule requires a person – or company, in this case – to have an opportunity to be heard before a decision is made affecting their interest.

The rule against bias ensures the decision-maker can be objectively considered to be impartial and not to have prejudged a decision. This rule is flexible, and must be determined by reference to a hypothetical observer who is fair minded and informed of the circumstances.

There is no indication of any breach of procedural fairness in the environmental assessment process. The review of the groundwater management plan was conducted rigorously, according to the public interest.

The letter sent by Adani requesting the names of scientists was allegedly grounded in concerns about the possibility of anti-Adani activism by expert reviewers. Despite this, Adani made it clear that it was not explicitly alleging bias. Its objective, the letter said, was a desire to be “treated fairly and in a manner consistent with other industry participants”.

The real purpose of the letter

If Adani was seriously concerned about a breach of procedural fairness in the review of their groundwater management plan, it would have sought a judicial review. It did not – because there was no breach.

The scientists working at CSIRO and Geoscience Australia are all experts in their disciplines. They were engaged in the important process of determining whether Adani’s plan for managing groundwater around their mine would meet the environmental conditions of their mining licence. In other words, the scientists were doing their job.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has said he “understands” Adani’s actions because of the delays associated with the review, but this is not how the system works.
The delays occurred because the original plan submitted by Adani had to be revised following expert review, and the updated plan required detailed evaluation. The mine could potentially have a serious impact on groundwater, the communities and ecosystems dependent on the water, and the nationally significant Doongmabulla Springs; this deserves careful scrutiny.




Read more:
Unpacking the flaws in Adani’s water management plan


As Adani has not brought an action for judicial review, the substantive purpose of the letter appears to be, as suggested by CSIRO representatives, to pressure scientists and potentially seek to discredit their work. The potentially chilling effect is clear.

Concern about climate change is not bias

The profound concerns raised by climate change and fossil fuel emissions are shared by many scientists around the world. The reports prepared for the International Panel on Climate Change make it clear that coal fired electricity must drop to nearly zero by 2050 to keep warming within 1.5℃.

This shared concern does not make scientists political activists. Nor does it prevent scientists from acting fairly and impartially when reviewing a groundwater management plan.




Read more:
The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance


An acceptance of climate science and even a belief that coal-fired energy should be decommissioned does not constitute bias. A reasonable bystander would expect most environmental scientists to be concerned about climate change.

It is crucial the environmental assessment process for large coal mines remains rigorously independent and absolutely free from any direct or indirect pressure from the coal industry. This is even more important when dealing with groundwater assessments, given their economic, social and ecological significance.

The letter, sent before the review was handed down, sets a dangerous precedent. Not because it suggests the scientists were impartial or there was any procedural unfairness involved in the process. But rather, because it jeopardises the independence of our scientists who, in seeking to ensure the longevity of our water, food and energy resources, carry a heavy responsibility to the public interest.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With the LNP returned to power, is there anything left in Adani’s way?


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

After months of “start” and “stop” Adani campaigning, the coalmine is poised to go ahead following the surprise success of the Coalition government at the federal election.

So is anything still stopping the coalmine from being built?

Australia has a federal system of government, but states own coal. This means the Queensland Labor government is responsible for issuing the Adani mining licence.

And there are suggestions pressure is mounting in the state Labor party for the final approvals to be passed.

Strategists have argued the state government must approve the Adani mine if they are to be re-elected next year. One of the reasons Labor lost votes in Queensland may have been because of perceived delays in the approval process by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.




Read more:
View from The Hill: It’s the internal agitators who are bugging Scott Morrison on Adani


Now, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has appointed her coordinator-general to oversee the remaining approvals. In a press conference, she said:

I think that the community is fed up with the processes, I know I’m fed up with the processes, I know my local members are fed up with the processes … We need some certainty and we need some timeframes — enough is enough.

But what has “delayed” the state government so far is its legal duty to make sure the coalmine has an effective plan to manage matters of environmental significance.

Before the election, the federal government already approved two controversial environmental plans – the groundwater management plan and the finch management plan. The only thing left now is for the Queensland Labor government to give its nod of approval.



Not ‘delay tactics’, but a legal duty

The federal government does not have jurisdiction over state resources unless the project impacts matters of national environmental significance.

And the Adani mine is one such project. The mine would remove the habitat of an endangered species and significantly impact vital underground water resources.

This means the project needed to be referred to the federal government.

The aim of this referral was to make sure the environmental assessment process would sufficiently prevent or reduce irreparable damage to the environment.




Read more:
Traditional owners still stand in Adani’s way


Generally, in a bilateral arrangement, the federal government authorises the state to conduct an environmental assessment. And this is the framework that has informed the Adani project from the outset.

This is our rule of law, and one that’s in the public interest.

So any suggestion the Queensland government engaged in “delay tactics” when they were carrying out these critical legal responsibilities is inaccurate and misconceives the fundamental legal responsibilities that underlie this process.

There are two more approvals left

There are two outstanding approvals required for the environmental conditions to be satisfied: the black-throated finch environmental management plan and the groundwater environmental management plan.

The habitat of the endangered black-throated finch must be protected.
Steve Dew, CC BY

Black-throated finch

The Queensland government rejected the black-throated finch management plan submitted by Adani last month. This was because the plan did not constitute a management plan at all.

If the finch’s habitat is destroyed by the coalmine, then it’s necessary to outline how this endangered species will be relocated, and how this relocation will be managed.

But the Adani management plan does not do this. Rather than setting up a conservation area for the finch, the Adani plan proposed establishing a cow paddock, which would destroy the grass seeds vital for the survival of the finch.

Clearly this plan does not comply with the environmental condition attached to its licence.




Read more:
Why Adani’s finch plan was rejected, and what comes next


Groundwater management

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science is currently reviewing the groundwater management plan and have sought further advice from Geoscience Australia and CSIRO.

Adani must address how the mine will impact the threatened Doongmabulla Springs in the Great Artesian Basin. This involves creating a groundwater model capable of estimating how much groundwater levels will decrease when water is used to extract the coal.




Read more:
Unpacking the flaws in Adani’s water management plan


This is important because the basin is a water supply for cattle stations, irrigation, livestock and domestic usage. It also provides vital water supplies to around 200 towns, which are entitled to draw between 100 and 500 million litres of water each year.

Any impact on the underground aquifers that feed into the Great Artesian Basin would not only be devastating for the environment, but also for all the communities that rely on its water resources.

The original groundwater model submitted by Adani was not “suitable to ensure the outcomes sought by the EPBC Act conditions are met”.

It’s unclear whether Adani’s resubmitted groundwater model still under-predicted the impact because the further submissions made by Adani have not been subjected to extensive review at the federal level.

Great care needs to be taken to ensure the expert advice from CSIRO and Geoscience is properly heeded.

The mine may cause the Doongmabulla Springs to cease flowing.
Lock the Gate Alliance/Flickr, CC BY

The Adani mine is an outlier in the global coal community

The approval of the Adani coalmine comes at a time when the global community is rapidly moving away from coal.

Germany, a pioneer of the mass deployment of wind and solar power generation, announced the phaseout of its 84 coalfired plants.

Britain has just had its first week without coal-fired electricity, and this new energy mix has rapidly become the “new normal”.




Read more:
How to transition from coal: 4 lessons for Australia from around the world


But the international coal market is variable. India’s consumption is expected to rise by the end of 2023, but their aim is to reduce coal imports. And China’s coal consumption is projected to fall almost 3%, largely due to the country’s ambitious clean energy plans. What’s more, coal is in decline in the United States and across Europe generally.

The global economy is de-carbonising. As global warming accelerates and cleaner energy options gain more traction, coal will inevitably decline even further.

A hasty post-election approval of the outstanding environmental plans for Adani coalmine would not only conflict with our domestic legal framework, but also the broader imperatives of the international community.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight would be disastrous for marine life and the local community



A recent poll showed seven out of ten South Australian voters are against drilling in the Great Australian Bight.
Shutterstock

Sarah Duffy, Western Sydney University and Christopher Wright, University of Sydney

The Great Australian Bight is home to a unique array of marine life. More than 85% of species in this remote stretch of rocky coastline are not found anywhere else in the world. It’s also potentially one of “Australia’s largest untapped oil reserves”, according to Norwegian energy company Equinor.

Equinor has proposed to drill a deepwater oil well 370km offshore to a depth of more than two kilometres in search of oil.

But a recent poll showed seven out of ten South Australian voters are against drilling in the Bight. And hundreds of people recently gathered on an Adelaide beach in protest.

Their main concerns include the lack of economic benefits for local communities, more fossil fuel investment, weak regulation and the potential for an oil spill, devastating our “Great Southern Reef”.

Drilling in the Great Australian Bight has occurred since the 1960s, but never as deep as what Equinor has proposed.




Read more:
Noise from offshore oil and gas surveys can affect whales up to 3km away


The Coalition government argues the project will improve energy security and bring money and jobs to the region. Labor announced recently that, if elected, it would commission a study on the consequences of a spill in the region.

So what’s the worst that could happen?

As discussed in a Sydney Environment Institute workshop in April, drilling in the Bight would have disastrous environment and economic implications.

A spill could leak between 4.3 million barrels and 7.9 million barrels – the largest oil spill in history, according to estimates from the 2016 Worst Credible Discharge report, authored by Equinor and its former joint-venture partner, BP.

The Bight is a wild place, with violent storms and strong winds and waves. The geography is remote, unmonitored, largely unpopulated and lacks physical infrastructure to respond effectively to an oil spill.

In such an event, Equinor has said it would take 17 days to respond in a best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is 39 days, and the goal scenario is 26 days.

In modelling for the worst-case scenario, the company predicts the oil from a spill could even reach from Albany in Western Australia to Port Macquarie in New South Wales.

How likely is an oil spill?

Reports from Norwegian regulators, compiled by Greenpeace, reveal Equinor had more than 50 safety and control breaches, including ten oil leaks, in the last three-and-a-half years. Each incident occurred in regulatory environments with stricter conditions than in Australia.

Our independent regulator, NOPSEMA, does not require inspections of wells during construction to ensure they meet safety standards.

This can be disastrous. For instance, the failure to properly construct the Montara Well in the North West Shelf caused the worst oil spill in Australian history.




Read more:
The missing stories from Montara oil spill media coverage


NOPSEMA does not have a set standard for well control. This is a risky proposition because in recent years three of the four major international oil spills from well blowouts occurred in exploration wells, the kind planned for the Bight.

And Greenpeace has questioned the independence of NOPSEMA after it was revealed the regulator will speak at an event promoting oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

Adding billions to the GDP, but there’s a catch

The Great Australian Bight boasts more marine diversity than the Great Barrier Reef and attracts more than 8 million visitors a year.

Equinor’s proposed project risks local fishing and tourism industries that rely on a pristine natural environment and contribute $10 billion a year to our economy, twice as much as the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Australian Bight is home to at least 14 schools of bottlenose dolphins.
Shutterstock

A 2018 ACIL Allen report on the economic impact of drilling in the Great Australian Bight suggested Australia’s GDP could gain A$5.9 billion a year if the region turns out to be a major oil field.

But the catch is that this would require 101 oil wells to be successfully drilled, and many of the expected benefits wouldn’t be realised until between 2040 and 2060. What’s more, this windfall wouldn’t reach the pockets of locals, but would largely land in federal government coffers via the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.




Read more:
Deepwater corals thrive at the bottom of the ocean, but can’t escape human impacts


These predictions are based on optimistic estimates of oil prices, and the report assumes our oil demand will remain on an upwards trajectory, which would mean we breach the Paris targets by a significant margin.

Worryingly, Equinor’s former partner in this venture, energy giant BP, even tried to claim an oil spill would benefit the local economy, and said:

In most instances, the increased activity associated with cleanup operations will be a welcome boost to local economies.

There is little evidence to support the argument that this drilling will lead to better energy security.

Given Australia doesn’t have the capacity to refine oil domestically, it’s likely most, if not all, of the oil extracted would be processed overseas.

From a security point of view, far more impact would come from reducing our reliance on oil through better vehicle emission standards and promoting a system-wide shift to electric vehicles.

No real benefit to the community

The Great Australian Bight is home to Australia’s most productive fishery, which directly employs 3,900 locals. An oil spill would threaten 9,000 jobs in South Australia alone.

By comparison, Equinor claim that the construction phase of the project would create 1,361 jobs, most of which require experience that would not be found in local communities. For instance, fly-in fly-out workers from Adelaide would take ongoing jobs on the rigs.

Equinor has had more than 50 safety and control breaches in the last three-and-a-half years, occurring in stricter regulatory environments than in Australia.
Shutterstock

Equinor has already completed seismic testing, which involves firing soundwaves into the ocean floor to detect the presence of oil and gas. The testing alone has pushed schools of tuna further out to sea, increasing costs and risks for local fisherman.

You decide, is it worth it?

Decisions over resource projects with significant environmental impacts need to be based on a thorough cost-benefit analysis and include the precautionary principle.




Read more:
Brexit could kill the precautionary principle – here’s why it matters so much for our environment


The economic advantage to either local communities or the Australian public from this proposal is in doubt. And Australians are entitled to ask their politicians why so little is demanded of these organisations.

In the lead-up to a critical federal election, we are left to ask why our political leaders are doubling down on a fossil fuel bet with no clear advantages and a significant downside risk.The Conversation

Sarah Duffy, Lecturer, School of Business, Western Sydney University and Christopher Wright, Professor of Organisational Studies, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.