The Kipper Gas Field: Our CO2 Future

This is an update to an article of mine that was originally published in The Age back in March this year.

On the 15th March, the Esso/BHP Billiton Bass Strait joint venture asked the Minister for Planning whether a new gas conditioning plant at Longford requires an Environmental Effects Statement. The State Government's new guidelines for assessing projects with significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were about to get their first big test.

The gas conditioning plant is required to treat new production from the Kipper gas field. The downside is that it would emit a million tonnes of CO2 every year. While not quite in the same league as a coal-fired power station, this is not the right approach to achieving urgent CO2 reductions.

Natural gas piped from Longford to our stoves must be quite pure. Esso therefore plans to build a processing unit to separate the CO2 from the gas. The result will be a concentrated waste stream of CO2, perfect for sequestering in an older oil or gas field nearby. So, what does Esso plan to do with it? Its proposal is to vent it to the atmosphere.

This project clearly exceeds the threshold of 200,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, which the Government introduced last year. So a decision from Planning Minister Justin Madden was required on whether a public review and Environmental Effects Statement is necessary.

Just three weeks before Esso's application (February 27), the Minister for Energy and Resources was in Parliament impressing us with details of his visit to a CO2 capture and storage trial in the Otway Basin. Peter Batchelor said the same techniques "should be able to be applied to the storage of carbon in other depleted oil and gas fields in Bass Strait". I have to agree.

Since promoting lower consumption doesn't make a great business plan, sequestration of CO2 is one of the oil companies' favoured remedies.

So why, in 38 pages of Esso's original submission to the Minister, is sequestration never mentioned? There is a section on possible alternatives where they could have explained why it might not be their first choice in this instance. Yet, still not a single mention.

Perhaps the sequestration option is less profitable and Esso/BHP would rather not lead us down that path. Well, it's time we were heading down that path and this project should be the perfect place to start.

You can see the full list of Project Referrals for this year on the website for the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

On the 22nd August, Minister Madden finally published his decision that the project would not require an Environmental Effects Statement.

Before reaching that conclusion, Minister Madden asked Esso for additional information in relation to their application, and we can now infer that he asked why they hadn't discussed carbon capture and sequestration. Esso provided additional information and a cover letter which I obtained after a Freedom of Information request.

Minister Madden also sought advice from the other relevant Ministers. The response from Minister Batchelor (Department of Energy and Resources) provides an interesting insight into Government thinking and bureaucracy, although it is hardly riveting reading.

My personal view after following this project for several months now is this:

In public, Esso Australia (ExxonMobil) and the Government tell all of us that carbon sequestration is the answer to climate change - that we can continue to burn fossil fuels and bury the problem.

In private, ExxonMobil are are doing whatever they can to avoid spending dollars on sequestration or reducing the economic return from their fields. The Government dabbles in a few experiments which gives them plenty to talk about, but they will not place the environment before any major business investment decisions. They rationalise this by saying that gas fields (even those containing CO2) have a lower total carbon output than coal per unit of energy delivered. But this gas is not going to be used to displace coal fired electricity, so total emissions continue to grow.

Minister Batchelor also stated in his letter that carbon capture and sequestration "will not be commercially viable until after 2020.

More recently, on November 2nd, celebrity scientist Dr Karl took a strong stance on the viability of carbon capture and sequestration, calling it a "furphy".

The colourful campaign of the physicist-turned-politician took a serious turn when he slammed Labor and the Coalition for propagating the "myth of carbon capture" and wasting taxpayers' money.

"Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, said if you're going to tell a lie, tell a big one, and this is a beauty," Dr Kruszelnicki said. "It is a furphy, a pork pie to cover up the fact that there is no such thing as clean coal," he said at Customs House in Sydney.

Our climate change solution is a long way out in the woods, but the problem is banging on the door.

It gets worse. There is a CO2 only gas well on the fringes of the Otway Basin
The CO2 is liquified onsite no doubt using coal fired electricity. Nary an eyebrow has been raised about the greenhouse implications. Liquid CO2 is used in my neighbourhood to make a hop flavoured syrup used in beer. Drink and be merry while the planet burns.

If I recall the Monash clean coal project was told that enhanced gas recovery on close inshore basins meant they wouldn't be available for sequestration. I'm not sure if there is a change of gubmint the clean coal b.s. won't continue.

Hi All,

Like watching a train wreck; I can't avert my eyes.
Tapis has just hit US$100.13

Justin in Brisi

Ta - Phil has just marked the occasion with a post on the subject.

I can't believe you said kipper gas.

Geo-sequestering is insane. It doesn't make EROEI sense and it does not make business sense. There is no business case for it, so businesses cannot do it (at least not while shareholders are investing their money with the intention of getting a financial return).

There is an alternative form of sequestering that has a business case: Sequestering by feeding the CO2 to a fast-growing organism (such as algae) and then harvesting the organism to produce bio-fuels and bio-char (which is sequestered).

I personally don't see sequestration happening in a big way either, once the decline begins we will need every ounce of EROI we can get. I don't see us 'wasting' 10-15% (estimate) of energy on sequestrating carbon when we are faced with an energy crisis.

The algae thing could be promising. This is pretty much how all the oil got down there in the first place isn't it -fast growing sea organisms sucking up the carbon during hot house periods, ocean anoyxia trapping the sinking lifeforms below some sea boundary. Topped with silt, buried, cooked and sucked back up by Mankind millions of years later, nice.

Biotechnology could enhance organisms to produce a greater % of oily output, huge offshore algael blooms could then be harvested. Well its possible in theory anyway but it won't stop the next 25 years being tough. I think we have only scratched the surface of what the sea could provide mankind.


The magic word is cooked. Mother Nature converted geothermal energy into oil energy when making oil 100-200 million years ago. If we have to supply that energy ourselves, it is tough to get >1.5 EROI. They've just breached the 1 EROI barrier in the lab.


I haven't escaped from reality. I have a daypass.

Actually Mother Nature was very inneficient too -check this piece out:

-98 tons of biomass per gallon of Gas...!

It's only because there was such a huge amount of stuff to start with that we get anything out. As the bottom of the article says modern processes can be more efficient. I believe Cane Sugar has a higher EROI (around 8?)

What we need is an efficient way to take the algae and concentrate it by extracting the water -possibly by using a solar furnace to boil away the water content.

I think the main take-away from the article is that we have been living in an age where we are saturated with almost free energy and in future we will be forced to appreciate the value of that energy much much more. And I am also coming to think that it means an end to many of the things we now take for granted and we are heading rapidly towards some sort of 'chaotic boundary'/'phase change' -call it what you will. I am loathe to say "the signs are all around us" as that is too close to what a religous nut might tell you about Doomsday -but they are aren't they?! :o)

Regards, Nick.

If you aren't putting close to 100% of the carbon into the char, you're not really sequestering.  This leaves nothing to go into the bio-fuels.

A sustainable system starts with biomass and turns some of it into char which is sequestered.  This is carbon-negative.

Hypocrasy swirls all around the issue of CO2 emissions in Australia. The Greens want to convince us we can get everything we want with solar panels and wind turbines. Issues of dealing with the costs of variability are hand waved away.

The Libs denied Global Warming until they couldn't any longer.

The Labor Party and Greens scaremonger Nuclear Power to win votes and champion pretty marginal technology as saviours.

Dr. Karl is no better in promoting GeoThermal hot rocks. There is really a lot of basic science that should be done before we launch into this. One decent seismic event could ruin billions of dollars of infrastructure to say nothing of the potential maintenance costs of pumping billions of litres of hot, very saline water rich in radon through heat exchangers.

Earthquakes have not shut down the 500 megawatt Geysers geothermal power project here in California. Earthquakes knock down structures but don't do that much damage to steel lined tube wells. There are millions of water, gas, and oil tube wells all over the world. We know how they react to earthquakes.
Sometimes the earthquake can change the rock porosity and other characteristics by changing the stress in the rock and opening or reopening cracks or channels. So a well can flow more or less water if it is near the surface, where pressure variations are more important than in deep wells like the very deep hot rock geothermal wells.
I'm not sure it's a good idea, but that's because hot rock geothermal is not as tried and true a technology as is natural hot springs geothermal power.
I suggest we spend a token one nuclear power plant's worth of money on proving the technology, and if it doesn't work, try something else.
Solar and wind are already proven technology, even if solar power really isn't usefull for anything more than running the air conditioners during clear summer days, and wind power is only good for extending the power output of hydroelectric power plants by one or two hundred percent.
We still need nukes.

This could be a subject for another post, but I think dry rock geothermal will work out expensive. Problems include lack of control over water passage ways, the low temperature gradient (I know about Kalina cycle yada yada), the need to conserve water in dry or uranium bearing areas, isolation from transmission lines and the need to keep the beefed up rig coming back to drill new holes.

I think solar thermal with storage will work out cheaper and more flexible. Still I think a couple of serious geothermal startups should get public assistance to work out the bugs.

Well - there are plenty of people trying to see if HFR geothermal works (see my post today on the topic for most of the gory details).

I think its a big enough potential source that it is worth putting some time and money into.

The Hunter Valley area is interesting in this regard, as there seems to be a lot of potential that would be very easy to tie into the existing grid.

Solar thermal is an easier option of course - its just a matter of getting the people in Canberra to help kick things off (carbon taxes would help).

The Greens want to convince us we can get everything we want with solar panels and wind turbines. Issues of dealing with the costs of variability are hand waved away.

I'll fill in the hand waving for you - smart grids, demand management and energy storage.

Its all quite do-able if enough effort is put in (adding ocean energy and geothermal to the mix obviously makes it a lot easier of course).

well, exxon has already done a co2 separation and sequestration project. at labarge, wyoming(usa) ,in the mid '80's, they installed a plant to remove co2 ( and sulphur) from the gas. the co2 was pipelined to rangely colorado where it was used in a co2 eor project. other eor projects are ongoing and planned in wyoming's powder river basin.

as it happened, i took a trip to labarge about this time and there was no place to stay (the one or two motels in town were booked for months). we found a rancher who had a bunk house to rent, unfortunately what he called a bunk house was really a skunk house. the wind surfing was great at flaming gourge reservoir, however.


A furphy, also commonly spelt furfie, is Australian slang for a rumour, or an erroneous or improbable story.

They rationalise this by saying that gas fields (even those containing CO2) have a lower total carbon output than coal per unit of energy delivered.

There are all sorts of rationalizations. Minister Downer, for example, argued that uranium exports could offset emissions from our coal exports.

But this gas is not going to be used to displace coal fired electricity, so total emissions continue to grow.

The same applies to our LNG exports which will increase emissions:
(a) by being burnt
(b) by stimulating growth in the economy, thereby creating demand for coal elsewhere in the system

There should be supply clauses requiring the importing country to decommission old coal fired power plants at the capacity equivalent to the energy content in the gas.

Better still would be NOT to export the gas and use it here for the manufacture of solar panels or mirrors.

Did Dr Karl step back or step sideways?
If I recall he said Sydney's electrical generation produces a cubic kilometre per day of CO2. Presumably that's now changed from nasty CO2 to helpful CO2 that wants to separate itself from flue gas, find its way underground and stay there.

Its just a small step back.

He admitted his original calculation (or Tim Flannery's to be exact) was incorrect and that the quantity of CO2 that is produced could be stored underground for a period of time.

However he said this is just a stop gap solution and you still run the risk of the stuff coming back up again.

I can't remember the last time I heard a politician admit he was wrong so quickly and change his position as a result.