PhD Completion Seminar: Aspects of Australia’s fugitive and overseas emissions from fossil fuel exports
Australia is a large global energy supplier. It is the world’s largest coal exporter and the second largest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exporter, leveraging the technological improvements to extract unconventional gas. A lack of understanding fossil fuel extraction emissions and the absence of regulation to effectively monitor these emissions impacts the accuracy of the emission inventory of the extracting country. It is also sometimes suggested that net fossil fuel exporters induce higher overseas greenhouse gas emissions by their production and export activities.
In Australia these cross-boundary effects of both the induced domestic emissions due to new gas exports and the potential contributions to overseas emissions from burned fossil fuels are clearly important to inform any policy discussions.
As part of this PHD thesis, Dimitri Lafleur looks at aspects of Australia’s fugitive and overseas emissions.
Firstly, Australia allows for the extraction of coal and gas that is exported and subsequently burned by importing nations, causing emissions in those nations. This thesis introduces a global extraction-based emissions accounting approach that complements the classical territorial accounting approach applied under the Kyoto Protocol or UNFCCC. At present Australia is the world’s sixth largest emitter if the overseas emissions of burning Australia’s fossil fuel exports are taken into account. Fossil fuel exporters have substantially higher emissions under this accounting approach compared to their territorial emissions.
Secondly, there is a need to better understand the fugitive emissions from unconventional natural gas extraction. Over one third of Australian gas production comes from coal seam gas extraction and the vast majority is exported, but estimates of the fugitive emissions from unconventional gas infrastructure are predominantly relying on possibly outdated emission factors. This is despite the empirical evidence from the United States that fugitive emissions from unconventional gas are much higher in various sedimentary basins. A field campaign, carried out in the coal seam gas development area, shows that methane is migrating through the soil at locations where faults are present and is emitted into the atmosphere.
Dimitri Lafleur is a PhD student at the Australian-German Climate & Energy College, born in the Netherlands, but has been living in Australia since 2008. He graduated from the University of Utrecht with an MSc in geology/geophysics and has worked in the oil and gas industry for 11 years, of which 9 years as a geoscientist for Shell in the Netherlands and Australia.