Australian energy ministers to consider renaming natural gas to ‘fossil gas’ in law

Meeting to discuss updating national gas law to reflect fuel’s environmental impact as well as overhauling hydrogen strategy

Australian energy ministers meeting on Friday will discuss an overhaul of the country’s hydrogen strategy, the treatment of emissions from the Beetaloo gas field and whether to change the treatment of “natural gas” in the national gas law.

The ACT energy minister, Shane Rattenbury, will propose the gas law be updated to replace “natural gas” with “fossil gas” or “methane” to more accurately reflect the environmental impact of the fuel.

Rattenbury said the term natural gas “reflects the marketing terminology used by the gas industry over previous decades to promote gas as a clean fuel source”, implying it was more positive than oil or coal.

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“Because it’s called natural gas, it’s perceived as a solution for climate change rather than a driver,” he said.

Gas is typically mostly methane, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is a potent greenhouse gas. Over the decade to 2019, its contribution to global heating was more than half that of carbon dioxide while attracting much less attention.

Changes to the national gas law will be one of the agenda items of Friday’s gathering of federal, state and territory ministers in Devonport in northern Tasmania.

The commonwealth will lead amendments to the national gas and energy retail laws to extend regulatory frameworks to cover the expected increase of hydrogen and renewable gas.

Ministers will also discuss the review of the 2019 national hydrogen strategy. It is expected to call for greater priority to be given to the emerging industry.

International competition has intensified faster than expected four years ago by the chief scientist at the time, Alan Finkel, when he compiled the original strategy.

Ministers are also expected to discuss the treatment of emissions resulting from the production and consumption of onshore gas fields in the Northern Territory, particularly in the Beetaloo basin.

According to recommendation 9.8 of the 2018 Pepper report, the territory and commonwealth governments were to “seek to ensure that there is no net increase in the life cycle GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT”.

Ministers will be asked to support a proposal to consider the management of so-called scope 2 and scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions arising from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT.

An official working group would then provide advice to ministers by the following meeting, including the potential scale of offsets gas projects that will likely be required under the federal government’s safeguard mechanism.

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