The Greens' gaping CSG omission

The Greens-led anti-CSG movement may be popular in the inner suburbs of Sydney, but it wrongfully omits the vital role of gas in key NSW industries, including manufacturing.

If you want to know how other-worldly the Greens are, read their coal seam gas policy for the federal election. This is what it says:

“Unconventional gas like CSG is a resource Australia does not need for domestic use. Australia’s energy use is declining thanks to improving energy efficiency and rapid update [they mean ‘uptake’] of rooftop solar. The real driver of CSG expansion is the attraction of lucrative overseas markets. Profit, not necessity, is driving the proliferation of the industry that threatens the long-term viability of Australian farmlands.”

Now, this stuff goes down a treat in the streets of Sydney’s Marrickville – where there are many bumper stickers, often on SUVs, proclaiming “You can’t eat coal seam gas” – and in similar areas in other east coast cities.

The link between gas and, say, fertiliser manufacture and what most Australians eat is lost, obviously.

So, too, is an understanding of the other uses of gas.

Let's look at New South Wales, because it is the warm centre of the anti-CSG campaign and the issue is red hot in a few regional seats at the federal election (as well as the inner suburbs of Sydney).

It’s obvious from reading the Greens’ propaganda that in their minds gas demand equates to residential use (or the cooking arrangements in their favourite restaurants) and can be eliminated by recourse to wind, solar and wave power (these are the three power sources the party talks up in other election material).

While gas consumption in the state is not as high as in Victoria (benefiting from decades of offshore resources) or Queensland (riding the massive availability of CSG) – which is one of the reasons that there is a less than adequate community understanding of the fuel’s role –  it does run at around 140 petajoules a year.

Who uses it? 

My Energy Supply Association data files show that household demand is around 20.5 PJ a year and power stations take another 19.5 PJ.

The commercial sector and services sector (e.g. hospitals) use 9.6 PJ.

Most of the balance – 88.7 PJ, that’s 63 per cent of state demand – is used in manufacturing.

Now, the problem with statistics is that they are, so to speak, inhuman. Like my grandsons so often say, people go “whatever” under the data downpour.

This is why the upstream petroleum industry is so keen to draw attention to the contribution its activities are making to the community at large through paying royalties and taxes.

The campaign currently being run by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association to coincide with the federal election highlights the fact that so far this year its members have contributed $5.7 billion “to fund schools, hospitals and infrastructure”.

That the Greens literally ignore the value of this kind of contribution in their railing against resources development is part of my accusation that they are other-worldly. 

The real issue is always where the impact falls.

How many people in NSW – Greens or otherwise – do you think actually know much about the role of manufacturing in the state? 

When you combine the Sydney basin with the Hunter Valley area, manufacturing employs almost 250,000 people – roughly the same as in Melbourne and almost twice as many as in Brisbane. 

And there are perhaps another half a million people in a wide range of sectors serving manufacturers’ needs.

The Greens like to use the one million solar rooftops number to claim that 2.5 million Australians now use PVs. In the same vein, about half the population of NSW is dependent on the health of the state’s factory sector.

More than 90 per cent of NSW manufacturing employment is concentrated in Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra. (At any given time there are also some 9000 young people doing apprenticeships in the sector.) Barely four per cent of factory jobs are to be found in the Richmond/Tweed and Mid North Coast areas where the anti-CSG campaign is red hot.

Manufacturing is the second-largest contributor to the NSW economy.

We’re talking fabricated metal product production, machinery and equipment making, plastics and chemicals, textiles, clothing and footwear, food and drink production and furniture making – 15 factory sectors in all.

The secure supply of energy and its cost is a critical input for all of them.

This is the real world, the one on which the Greens, through their anti-CSG campaigning, can impose a whole new source of pain.

And let’s not let the mainstream politicians off the hook, either.

The NSW Minister for the North Coast, Don Page, boasted to the ABC last week – as the broadcaster played up the delivery of 13,000 signatures on an anti-CSG petition to the state parliament – was that his government had “put everything on hold for 18 months while we work out a better (CSG) regulatory regime”.

This is a source of pride?

The odds that there will be a new federal regime on September 8 are high, and the Coalition intends the states to be the decision takers in resource project approvals.

Don Page’s government doesn’t have to go to the polls until March 2015. For he and his cabinet colleagues, the NSW gas problem isn’t going to go away when the election posters are torn down next month. It’s going to loom ever larger – with 1.1 million consumers (20,000 of them manufacturing businesses, large, medium and small) in the firing line.

The Greens represent the noisy, other-worldly fringe of politics.

But, after September 7, the CSG ball will be inescapably at the feet of the Coalition – in Canberra and in Sydney.

Is the O’Farrell state government capable of delivering a real-world resolution, not least for the beleaguered manufacturers and their employees?

Keith Orchison is a former APPEA chief executive as well as former managing director of the Electricity Supply Association. He is editor of the OnPower and Coolibah websites on energy issues.

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