Climate groups blast minister’s support of new Australian gas projects as ‘fact-free spin’

<span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Climate and environment groups have criticised comments by the new resources minister, Madeleine King, in support of new gas development, saying it is inconsistent with what climate science says is required to limit global heating.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, King said new gas fields such as Santos’ Narrabri development in northern New South Wales would help avoid a future power crisis.

“It avoids a crisis, is what it does, because it means more gas closer to your systems,” King said of the Narrabri project.

Related: Gomeroi traditional owners vote against agreement with Santos for Narrabri gas project

Santos’ project was approved by the NSW Independent Planning Commission and the federal government in 2020. It would not produce gas before 2025.

It has faced strong opposition from community and environment groups and traditional owners who have raised concerns about its effects on the climate, water and the Pilliga forest.

Tim Buckley, the director of Climate Energy Finance, said the energy crisis on the east coast would not be solved by more greenfield fossil fuel developments.

The International Energy Agency and the United Nations have said new fossil fuel projects are incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5C.

“Any discussion about gas as a transition fuel is ignoring the climate science, ignoring methane venting and fugitive emissions, and it’s ignoring the whole supply chain analysis and the reality that methane emissions are skyrocketing way in excess of the corporate data,” Buckley said.

“Methane is now one-quarter of global CO2 equivalent emissions and we have a climate emergency.”

Buckley said new gas developments would take years to come online and would not address skyrocketing prices.

“Domestic east coast gas production has tripled in the last decade, and so it is totally fact-free spin to say yet more production will somehow lower the record-high gas prices,” he said. “Excessive exports from the east coast of Australia is the problem.”

Andrew Stock is a retired energy executive and a retired foundation director of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

He is now a councillor for the Climate Council and said the work of both the IEA and the UN made clear there was “no room in the climate balance of the planet for new gas developments”.

Related: Earthworks approved for nuclear waste dump despite opposition from traditional owners, court hears

Stock said the states with the lowest energy prices in the national market were those that had diversified strongly into renewables and storage, such as South Australia.

“What government should be doing is working very hard to put in place a transition plan to renewables and storage, and away from fossil fuels, because that makes Australia independent to what’s going on in the rest of the world,” he said.

National energy ministers have agreed to the creation of a transition plan to decarbonise the economy, the acceleration of work by the Energy Security Board on building extra capacity for electricity supply, and an investigation by regulators of the purchase and storage of gas to reduce the risks of shortages.

King told the Sydney Morning Herald she wanted to decarbonise the economy but had to “accept some of the realities of our current energy mix”.

Chris Gambian, the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, said King’s support for the Narrabri development would do nothing to solve the immediate energy shortfall and “it ignores the obvious need for domestic gas reservation”.

“It also disregards the significant environmental damage that the local community at Narrabri has been seriously concerned about for many years.”

Gomeroi traditional owners voted overwhelmingly against entering into an agreement with Santos for its Narrabri gas project. The matter is the subject of proceedings in the national native title tribunal.

Gomeroi traditional owner Karra Kinchella said there had been resistance to the Santos project for more than a decade and “that’s not going to change just because Ms King wants it to”.

“What gets me the most is that if we had started the transition to renewable energy ten years ago, the Pilliga wouldn’t be at risk now,” she said.

King told Guardian Australia in a statement: “The government is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and gas will remain an important energy source during the energy transition. Gas is able to ensure reliability and security of energy supply as coal generation comes to an end.”

The minister said gas developments had “the potential to supply the increased demand for gas generation during the energy transition” as would greater investment in renewables and energy storage.

“If developments like Narrabri stack up environmentally and commercially, and receive necessary approvals, then they should go ahead,” King said. “That includes environmental approvals and native title processes.”