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Estimates: Questions about measuring fugitive methane emissions

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Friday 4 August 2023, I asked the Director-General and Deputy Director-General of the Department of Environment and Science, and Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, about apparent underreporting of fugitive methane emissions. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: Recent analysis from the International Energy Agency and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis shows that fugitive emissions—fugitive methane emissions specifically—have likely been underreported on the national emissions inventory by over 80 per cent for coal and more like 90 per cent for oil and gas. I understand that accounts for about 28 megatons of CO2 equivalent of underreported emissions and roughly six per cent of the current national emissions. My question again to the DG is: does the department accept this analysis, and how is the department accounting for this in its tracking of fugitive methane emissions in Queensland?

Mr Merrick: We take into account a full range of credible sources such as those. In terms of the issue around emissions, I might first go to the deputy director-general of environmental services and regulation, but I think you are speaking to a bigger issue around emissions in Queensland. Depending on the response, we might also bring forward the deputy director-general of environmental policy and programs if we want to speak to the broader issue of emissions modelling and figures.

Mr Lawrence: Obviously in our assessment process, we take into account all of the information that we have at hand and the information that is provided to us. That area is changing rapidly and obviously, we have changed our terms of reference for the EIS to include scope 1, 2 and 3. There is a technology which is able to obviously detect methane, such as satellite imagery and those sorts of things, but not really accurately at the moment. So there is a fair bit of work going on about how to do that with accurate methodology but it is still in its infancy, if that makes sense.

Mr BERKMAN: Thank you, Mr Lawrence. Is work ongoing at the moment to establish some kind of comparative figure of how much our fugitive methane emissions may have been underreported or underestimated in Queensland?

Mr Merrick: We have an active partnership with a number of players, including NASA, looking at technologies around managing fugitive emissions. There is work going on to improve our capabilities to monitor and enforce conditions around methane, but that work is ongoing.

Mr BERKMAN: I am interested in whether that 80 per cent underestimation for coal and 90 per cent underestimation for oil and gas fugitive emissions are reflected in your understanding of fugitive emissions and their previous and current reporting in Queensland?

Mr Merrick: I do not have the report in front of me, but as I said, we take all well-founded peer-reviewed reports into consideration in terms of informing the approach we take both from a policy and a regulatory perspective. I think it is important to say, though, that this really is a space that is emerging quite quickly in terms of the monitoring of methane emissions particularly using remote sensing technologies, which is why we are working with leaders in this field such as NASA to understand this approach better. I am not sure without that report in front of me in terms of the particular methodologies and techniques that were used. I do not doubt its veracity, but it is important that we look at the evidence brought to bear in terms of quantifying methane emissions and the appropriate methodologies to do that.

Ms LINARD: To clarify, I was talking to the DG and I do not think we will be able to get that information within the time frame that you were talking about compliance, if that is something you want. I know we have a long-term habit of every estimates of me offering you a briefing should you wish, post the hearing. I appreciate that time is limited, so I will leave the ball in your court.

Mr BERKMAN: If the data around compliance inspections, specifically in Lake Ayr Basin could be taken on notice, that would be fantastic.

Ms LINARD: That is what I was referring to. We would not be able to come back in the timeframe that we are required to post-estimates with that information, but should you wish to have a briefing, we can come back when we have more time to do so.

Mr BERKMAN: I am sure we will do that, thank you.

Mr Merrick: In response to Mr Berkman’s question about how many inspections, we conducted seven major inspections of petroleum and gas facilities in the Lake Eyre Basin in the last year. 

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