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Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Page: 7764

Mr CHEESEMAN —The Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 and related bills address one of the key aspects of the great challenge facing our generation: how to deal with human induced climate change. Labor is dealing with climate change with a suite of policies. One of our major policy initiatives is this bill, which is integral to Labor’s ongoing commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Before I get into the detail of the bill and what the issue of carbon capture is all about, I want to make clear that Labor sees the growth and fostering of renewable energies as central to our future. Renewable energy is our long-term future. We must be about moving our energy generation sector to long-term sustainability with the least environmental footprint. But we also have to be realistic about where we are today in our reliance on coal for our energy and in its contribution to our overall economy. Let us be clear that, even with a big effort to convert to alternative and renewable sources of energy, fossil fuels will be the main source of energy for Australia for some time to come.

Coal’s share of future power generation in Australia will decline in favour of renewable energy. But coal will continue to provide much of Australia’s electricity generation requirements in the short to medium term. Today, one of only a few technologies available to make deep cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions coming from existing coal power generators is carbon capture and storage. This is new technology, so it is important to explain what we are on about. Through geosequestration, carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere is compressed into a liquid and injected into deep geological formations for permanent storage. That is what this legislation is about. The government’s legislation establishes access and property rights for the safe and secure injection and storage of greenhouse gases into stable subsurface geological reservoirs.

The legislation provides project developers with the certainty required to commit to major low-emission energy projects involving carbon capture. It also allows for the establishment of an effective regulatory framework to ensure that projects meet health, safety and environmental requirements. The bill will also put in place a new range of offshore titles providing for the transportation by pipeline and injection and storage into suitable geological formations.

Both local and international interest has been growing on the issue of carbon capture and storage. International interest in carbon capture and storage has increased substantially in the past few years. I am very excited about what this industry offers my own region. I believe our region is already a world leader in carbon capture and storage. We have now stored 10,000 tonnes of CO2 in an underground depleted natural gas field just off Port Campbell, just out of my electorate. This is the biggest experiment of its kind anywhere in the world, and an important step in the development of this industry locally.

So Australia leads the way in carbon capture and storage and we need to legislate to put in place a legal framework for this technology. A lot of work is happening in this area both here and overseas but it is important to acknowledge the fact that this is still very new science. There is still a lot of scepticism in the community. However, it is important we proceed to try to test the carbon capture and storage technology and for that we need a legislative framework. The Australian energy facts of life are very clear. Australia runs predominately on electricity generated by coal. Coal currently provides almost 80 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation capacity. Coal in fact provides around 40 per cent of world electricity needs. Globally our responsibilities are greater, as Australia is a net energy exporter. Emerging world economies such as China and India run on Australian coal. In 2004 Australia ranked second out of the OECD countries in energy exports. Carbon dioxide, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels for energy, is the most common greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. It is the process causing the most adverse impacts on our climate. Australia’s carbon footprint is global. And decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere is the key environmental issue facing Australia and the world. These pressures are forcing interest in a wide range of technologies, not the least of which is carbon capture and storage. Projects and experiments with carbon capture and storage are increasing at a rapid rate around the world.

The International Energy Agency, which monitors and forecasts global energy supply and demand, estimates that the world’s immediate future energy needs will be met primarily by fossil fuels. It forecasts coal will provide around 44 per cent of the world’s electricity needs in 2030—an increase on its current share. This may or may not be the case; it depends on how climate change impacts bite and the imperatives on government. It is therefore vitally important that we now develop domestic and international greenhouse gas abatement solutions. Today, these solutions include policies that support the development and deployment of low-emission coal technologies.

In my own experience as a geology student, carbon capture and storage provides solutions as well as problems. To discount the public scepticism about carbon capture and storage would be foolish. Many people will argue that, whilst we can inject CO2 into one hole, it might escape from another. These difficulties are addressed within the legislation, recognising the need to provide assurance to the community that CO2 will be stored in a safe and secure manner.

The coal industry is very significant to Australia’s economic prosperity. Our big long-term challenge is, no doubt, to find alternative fuels, but we also have to address the immediate realities of coal and find abatement methods. Carbon capture and storage is one of the most promising technologies to provide immediate relief from CO2 pollution by the coal industry. There is great potential to now undertake significant steps to effectively reduce carbon pollution through carbon capture and storage. This legislation provides an important legal framework that could underwrite Australia’s concerted efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. This is not a silver bullet that will solve the carbon pollution problem, but it may be an important step in helping with carbon pollution abatement for the period ahead, in which we will rely upon coal whilst we move to more sustainable energy generation processes. This legislation is integral in making sure the framework exists to develop and implement this important carbon capture and storage process.

The risk of doing nothing—which perhaps the other side supports—is that it will threaten our economy very substantially. In my electorate, areas such as the Great Ocean Road, the Surf Coast and parts of the Bellarine Peninsula will be adversely threatened by rising sea levels. It is important that we contribute to reducing carbon emissions. This legislation provides a very important solution which I believe will generate additional jobs in my area. I commend the bill to the House.