Santos copped it super-sweet this week. The Commonwealth’s Department of Climate Change, Environment and Water gave the quiet green light to Santos’s Queensland project to drill 116 coal-seam gas wells in the Surat Basin northwest of Brisbane. It is to supply coal seam gas mainly for the Korean and Malaysian markets out to 2077.

This is on top of Santos’s Barossa offshore project which is expected to yield 3.7million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) a year, just one more of their big fossil fuel developments for northern Australia. Approval applications are in progress for this major LNG development.

And all this is on top of the staggering $3 billion profit Santos made in 2022, an increase of 160% on the previous year.

It can seem that it does pay not to be a good corporate citizen. As Jen Basham from the Queensland Conservation Council put it:

  • “Last year it was revealed that Santos covered up an oil spill from the Varanus Island oil rig off WA which killed dolphins.
  • In December, Santos’ approvals to drill for gas in the Tiwi sea country were invalidated by a Federal Court, because they hadn’t consulted the Traditional Owners. 
  • Santos produced more carbon emissions than 200,000 Queenslanders but paid less company tax than the average person last year
  • Santos is a big donor to political parties.”

Fossil fuels scenario on notice

As Australia endures a rolling set of increasingly extreme weather events the scenario that we can have fossil fuels and save our climate from destruction looks increasingly shaky. However, Santos and many of our banks and institutions are keen for us to subscribe to the scenario wherein:

  • governments continue to approve fossil fuel super-size projects,
  • big public funds continue to flow (through ‘Clean Energy’ Finance) to the R & D into Carbon-Capture-and-Storage (CCS) which is still unproven after many billions and decades, and
  • big dollars also pour into highly unsubstantiated carbon credit schemes including CCS and land and forest sequestration to ‘offset’ emissions from fossil fuel burning which are difficult to abate.

Under this extraordinarily dangerous scenario for our climate, Santos has ‘improved’ its climate action targets to add that it will develop CCS at its Moomba facility to, not only offset its oil and gas emissions, (existing and proposed), but to sell credits to others finding it difficult to abate their emissions.

It is a ludicrous scenario if it weren’t being taken so seriously. We have seven years to get our whole economy, but particularly our energy sector and our exports, onto a vastly differently trend line where emissions are declining exponentially.

Greta Thunberg’s plea is not just emotional, it’s scientifically correct: it is a choice we are making when our home is on fire, it’s not a time for petrol to be going into the firehoses.

Can Labor be blamed for not stopping the fossil fuel approvals in progress under the previous ‘gas-led recovery’ government? Recently they did act to reject Clive Palmer’s Waratah application on the basis of its potential Reef impacts. They do not seem as willing to act on other ones in the pipeline (pun sadly intended) but when will the line be drawn on this solid stream of new applications across our land and waters? When will there be no new coal, oil or gas approvals as demanded by the Greens?

The Safeguard Mechanism must be a big part of the solution, requiring tighter emission limits year on year on all big emitters. But there is a lot of slack to be taken up out of the inertia of the last decade of government failure. And it has particular relevance to Queensland with its spread of coal and gas fields (existing and going for approval), its dependence on fossil fuel exports and its stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef, not to mention the devastating weather event disasters it has seen in recent years.

One thing Federal Labor must consider is the inclusion of a greenhouse gases trigger in the promised revision of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The lobbying of the last twenty years by the mining and manufacturing sectors has blocked any inclusion of a greenhouse trigger in the assessment of new projects.

We have paid and are still paying the price for being unable to undertake proper climate impact assessments of new projects. Labor should put a greenhouse trigger into the EPBC Act so we don’t have to find other ways to put climate on the agenda for these climate destructive projects.

Cover Image – View of the Santos Place building in Brisbane by by Marlon Trottmann -iStock. This building is occupied by the Santos Ltd. (South Australia Northern Territory Oil Search) company – iStock.