What is the problem with gas?

Gas used to be seen as clean energy, at least when compared with burning coal. Up until the 1990s in Australia, natural gas was primarily extracted from what are known as conventional reservoirs.

Gas is now increasingly now largely extracted from ‘unconventional’ reservoirs located in coal seams and shale layers, often located beneath valuable agricultural land, and sometimes using the highly invasive method of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. These methods can have significant environmental and agricultural impacts and have been banned by some states across Australia.

Although 70% of Australia’s total gas reserves are conventional gas resources and 30% are from coal seam gas resources, coal seam gas accounts for about 80% of the Queensland’s domestic gas supply and is growing since some states removed moratoriums on fracking projects

Fossil gas is mostly made up of the chemical methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

The climate pollution released when gas is burned for fuel combined with the methane released in multiple stages of gas extraction and distribution processes mean gas has a significant climate impact that may have been historically undercounted.

About 19 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from natural gas. The climate pollution caused by gas is currently the highest on record with emissions from oil and gas and LNG increasing by 7.8% or 3.3 million tonnes in 2020-21. The Australian National Greenhouse Gas Inventory describes how gas is an underlying driver of recent increases in Australia’s emissions.

Unlike other industrial processes, residential gas can be replaced immediately and is a key opportunity to reduce emissions before 2030. Climateworks Centre research indicates that a 1.5-degree global warming trajectory requires the full decarbonisation and electrification of Australian homes by 2035.

Traditional sources of the fossil fuel are running out or becoming increasingly expensive, particularly in eastern Australia. Reducing demand for gas, particularly in homes, is necessary to avoid new gas supply projects and meeting emissions reduction targets. With the energy transition to renewables under way, making our homes energy efficient and all-electric is set to be a key priority for the 2020s.

Alongside climate change, a growing number of health organisations are highlighting the health impacts of domestic gas use. Gas heaters produce a variety of air pollutants when gas is burned. Unflued gas heaters are particularly dangerous because these pollutants remain inside the home rather than being vented outside. The combustion of gas during cooking produces fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. Taking actions while cooking, such as using a rangehood, opening windows or using an air purifier, can help to improve indoor air quality and reduce exposure to air pollution produced while cooking.

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