April 28th 2012

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Articles from this issue:

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Same-sex marriage: attack on religious freedom and parents' rights

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can the Greens survive Brown's departure?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Craig Thomson affair discredits Labor government

EDITORIAL: Fretilin defeated in East Timor's presidential poll


CLIMATE CHANGE: Bureau's flawed forecasts undermine climate credibility

ENERGY: Government suppresses warning of energy crisis

SCHOOLS: Rediscovering the lost tools of learning

ILLICIT DRUGS: Drugs war needs a new approach

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Extent of China's leadership crisis becoming evident

UNITED NATIONS: Indispensable role of pro-life NGOs at UN forums

SOCIETY: Married parents the key to college success

HISTORY: Richard Dawkins: "Hitler was a Catholic"

ART & CIVILISATION: War on art: some thoughts on Damien Hirst

OPINION: Australia's shrinking food and manufacturing sectors


CINEMA: Gruesome possibilities for reality TV

BOOK REVIEW War in the classroom

BOOK REVIEW Was the White Star Line's CEO a coward?

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Government suppresses warning of energy crisis

by David Archibald

News Weekly, April 28, 2012

Last month, the Victorian Government released a plan to encourage the mining and export of brown coal from the Latrobe Valley.

It is pertinent to discuss that in the context of a report that the Federal Government did not release — Report 117. That report’s full name is Transport Energy Futures: Long-Term Oil Supply Trends and Projections (March 2009).

Report 117 can be summarised in one sentence from its summary: “The modelling is forecasting what can be termed the 2017 drop-off. The outlook under a base case scenario is for a long decline in oil production to begin in 2017, which will stretch to the end of the century and beyond.”

Report 117 is complete, with an ISBN number, apart from the printer’s name. It can be found on the website of a French whistleblower and energy expert by the name of Jean-Marc Jancovici.

Why didn’t the Australian Government release it? My sources in the Department of Transport, which commissioned the report, tell me that it was vetoed by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, one Anthony Albanese.

The reason he would have killed it is that Report 117 shows that all is not rosy in the world and that Australia is going to have a hard time sourcing all the oil we need on world markets. Australian oil self-sufficiency is now only 50 per cent-odd and by mid-decade will be down to a far worse 25 per cent level.

The oil price is rising on a trend that will take it to $200 per barrel by 2014. So, even if we can source the oil we need, we will be paying through the nose for it. The money leaving Australia to pay for it will be a gigantic drain on the Australian economy.

That is one possible future. However, there is a far better possible future that involves the Latrobe Valley brown coal deposits, and for the moment we do have a choice about which future we get. That far better future sees the Latrobe Valley brown coal deposits turned into liquid fuels such as diesel and jet fuel on the spot.

Each billion tonnes of brown coal will yield 600 million tonnes of liquid fuels. At that rate, we need to consume about seven billion tonnes to equal the oil that the Bass Strait oilfields have yielded. Whatever figure you use for the mineable reserves in the Latrobe Valley, divide them by that seven billion tonne figure to determine how many Bass Straits of fuel supply are waiting for us to transform them into something useful.

Coal-to-liquids plants in the Latrobe Valley will employ a lot more people and pay a lot more tax than mines owned by foreigners that will export briquettes. Victoria could become Australia’s saviour in terms of liquid fuel security, just as the development of the Bass Strait oilfields was 40 years ago.

In terms of its effect on climate, there will be none. Carbon dioxide is exhausted as a greenhouse gas. From its current atmospheric concentration, its effect is lost in the noise of the climate system, and the climate system is turning down.

My own work on the effect of solar cycle length is showing a rapid and severe cooling over the next 20 years, taking us back to temperatures last experienced in the 17th century. In that environment, our crops will need all the aerial fertiliser they can get.

Our political leaders have not always been living in a fool’s paradise on the subject of liquid fuel security. In 2005, Kim Beazley, while then leader of the federal Labor Opposition, asked in an address to the Australian Institute of Company Directors, “As Australians queue for petrol at around $4.00, $5.00 — potentially up to $10.00 — a litre further down the track, the questions will be: how had our governments not seen the writing on the wall?”

The fate of Report 117 shows that they have seen the writing on the wall and they would rather pretend that it doesn’t exist. In fact, they have taken inspiration from the Russian joke of the Soviet period — the future is known; it is the past that keeps changing.

At the Department of Transport website in January, there was no Report 117 between Reports 116 and 118. Now there is, and it is a report on aircraft movement.

The carbon tax and the mining tax are a particularly horrific combination for Australia. The carbon tax penalises our biggest resource endowment. The message from the mining tax is that risk capital is not welcome here.

The coal-to-liquids plants meant for us will be built in Canada and Chile instead. Those places have far more sensible governments.

David Archibald is a Perth-based climate scientist, energy analyst and author who contributed a chapter to the recently published book Energy Security 2.0: How Energy is Central to the Changing Global Balance in the New Age of Geography, available from News Weekly Books.

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