Posts mislead about Australia’s energy resources as the country faces an energy crisis

Australian politicians and social media users have shared the misleading claim that the country’s energy crisis is a sham since Australia has “enough” fossil fuels to power the country indefinitely. Soaring energy prices and widespread blackouts threaten Australia, despite being one of the world’s largest coal and gas producers. Several experts say Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels has actually contributed to its energy crisis – and warn that the country’s current energy mix leaves it vulnerable to future energy shortages.

“The idea that we are in an energy crisis is criminal,” reads one Facebook post shared on October 11 by Joséphine Cashman, candidate of the right Party of a nation in the state of New South Wales.

The post has been shared over 1,700 times.

“We have enough coal, oil, gas and uranium in Australia to keep the lights on until the sun goes down,” he says.

Screenshot of the misleading post taken on October 25, 2022

The claim began circulating online as The Australian Energy Regulator suspended the country’s electricity market in June to avoid power outages.

One Nation Party Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts also tweeted the same claim in Julywhile social media users shared similar posts here, here and here.

These posts, however, omit important context about Australia’s energy crisis.

Fossil fuels

Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of gas and coal, but around a quarter of the coal-fired power stations on its coast are densely populated has disconnected in June due to breakdowns and maintenance.

Household energy bills have also skyrocketed, according to a report by the Australian Associated Press.

Fossil fuels provided around 71% of Australia’s electricity last year, and coal alone 51%, government figures show.

Experts say so dependence on fossil fuels is a major factor in the current energy crisis.

“Because of the way the market works, gas plants often set the wholesale price, and so the very high international gas prices that Australia has been exposed to over the past eight months have had a major effect, as well as the high thermal coal prices.”, Roger DargavilleDdeputy director of Monash University’s Energy Institute, told AFP.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saw export request for Australia’s gas peak, mopping up any potential surplus that could ease the domestic deficit.

Roc Shipresident of the International Society for Energy Transition Studies, told AFP: “Australian coal and natural gas are all linked to international markets, high international prices will spill over into domestic markets.”

Energy expert Richie Merzian of the Australian Institute said the country’s balance must change to avoid such crises.

“As long as Australia remains dependent on gas and coal, Australian consumers will be above a barrel of global fuel prices influenced by events beyond our control,” he said.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy sources would help mitigate the impact of rising fossil fuel prices, says a professor of energy and environmental economics at the Australian National University Paul Burque told AFP.

“Adopting renewables helps reduce exposure to the energy crisis, not increase it,” he said.

“If we had more renewable energy, we might use less gas and energy costs might be lower,” Dargaville told AFP.

A study published in September in the monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal Joule conducted a simulation of probable renewable energy costs.

He found that “a rapid green energy transition is likely to result in trillions in net savings.”

Limited resources

Australia’s energy resources, while vast, are also not infinite as the application of misleading messages.

The country’s black coal reserves, which contain the highest levels of carbon, are estimated to be just over 160 years old at 2020 production rates. Conventional gas is estimated to have a lifespan of around 40 years, while crude oil is only around 17 years old.

Uranium — used in nuclear power generation — has a lifespan of around 210 years, but exports are expected to drop 20% in the medium term after a mine closes in January 2021.

Australia has banned commercial nuclear power plants in every state and territory, and has no national nuclear industry plans as of October 2022.

“Australia is an energy-rich country, with abundant but not unlimited solar, wind, fossil and uranium resources,” Burke told AFP.

But he cautioned against further fossil fuel extraction.

“If we don’t capture the emissions, the world would be poised for substantial warming,” he said.

The latest reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2021 and 2022, authored by more than 200 scientists from 66 countries, noted: “It is unequivocal that human influence warmed the atmosphere, the ocean and the land.”

The reports call for urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid catastrophic global warming.

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