Hot air and pants on fire: Fact checking the PM’s gas lighting

The Prime Minister was in full #ScottyfromMarketing mode on Tuesday to sell his government’s increased commitment to fossil fuels, including a threat to launch the Commonwealth directly into the gas burning business.

Marketing can be, shall we say, an “inexact” trade. The energy industry – the professionals at burning stuff and generating electricity – reckon it was something less than “inexact”.

So to prevent the spin making people giddy, here’s a little random fact clarification of Mr Morrison’s speech.

“What we are speaking of today really is the extraordinary work that Angus has done in this portfolio as energy and emissions reduction.”

True. It is extraordinary, for all the wrong reasons.

As the AFR’s Chanticleer column put it: “This is the sort of plan that should have been endorsed by the Council of Australia Governments about a decade ago.”

A decade late and a billion dollars high.

“He brings an enormous amount of intellect and experience to these tasks.”

Indeterminate. But if these tasks involve fake documents, establishing Cayman Island structures, fiddling emissions numbers and clearing native grasslands, true.

“Our COVIDSafe vaccine plan, investing some $1.7 billion to develop and produce a vaccine, right here, sovereignly in Australia.”

A little bit. The Federal Government has only invested about $5 million of the $1,700 million mentioned in trying to develop a vaccine – the Queensland University project.

Scott Morrison is banking on a gas-led recovery. Photo: AAP

The other $1,695 million for manufacturing the medicine will not happen unless/until the Oxford University vaccine or maybe the Queensland vaccine works. What happens if, say, one of the Chinese vaccine Stage 3 trials is the winner, we don’t know.

“Our JobMaker Budget on the 6th of October”

True. #ScottyfromMarketing gets to call anything he wants anything he wants. The 2020-21 Federal Budget has now been official renamed JobMaker Budget™.

“Wholesale electricity prices have now fallen for 12 consecutive months.”

True. An economy softening and then plunging into recession will do that for you. Electricity consumption in the latest financial year was the lowest in 15 years.

“For decades, coal-fired generation has been a source of competitive strength for our economy. Reliable, low cost energy. This is still true.”

This is still false. Matt Canavan says coal is cheap, so the statement had a massive credibility handicap before the Prime Minister made it.

Marketing spinners might point to depreciated existing coal-fired plants being cheaper than existing wind power, but what matters is what will be built next – and new coal would be more expensive than existing wind, let alone the new stuff.

Besides, who can forget Australia having “the highest energy prices in the world” in 2017? Mr Morrison, apparently. We have improved – last year we had only the eighth-highest prices of the 36 OECD countries.

“With new technologies such as carbon capture and storage continuing to improve, it will have an even longer life, not just here in Australia, but in our export markets as well.”

False. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS to the cognoscente, is a colossal failure that’s already gobbled up a fortune in government handouts. Fossil fuelers have been using the CCS mirage for camouflage while they keep digging. The best way to improve CCS is to redeploy the money into energy storage.

“… Our emissions reduction targets by 2030 which we remain committed to. Can’t tell you if everyone else does, but we remain committed to that. And we will meet it in a canter.”

True and false. We have Mr Morrison’s word for the government being committed to its targets, so that might be true, but the Prime Minister has form in not understanding emissions numbers and the targets are bogus anyway.

See previous reference to Angus Taylor’s expertise and one I prepared earlier, “with Mr Taylor’s talent for figure fiddling, the sun rises in the west, bears no longer defecate in the woods, and somehow less than 15 per cent is turned into more than 26 per cent”.

“An estimated 225,000 Australians work in manufacturing firms that rely heavily on gas as a feedstock or fuel source, according to APPEA”

Indeterminate. Old saying, “never ask a barber if you need a haircut”. APPEA stands for the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.

If you add up the number of workers in various industries counted by reports commissioned by those various industries and sundry vested interests, there would be more workers than people in Australia. APPEA’s number is more than a quarter of the pre-COVID manufacturing workforce.

In any event, a guide by AIGroup, the Energy Efficiency Council and Clean Energy Finance Corp reckons “that by implementing energy efficiency measures and switching from gas to other clean energy sources, Australian industry can reduce gas consumption by at least 25 per cent on current levels”.

“There is no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia that does not involve the greater use of gas.”

True in one respect, but false. Something is not credible if you can’t believe it – and the government can’t believe we don’t have to burn more carbon in one form or another.

“Industry will be obliged to increase national stocks of diesel beyond the recent average of 20 days to 28 days, an increase of around 5 million barrels. This is in line with the findings of the Government’s Liquid Fuel Security Review.

“Now these obligations flow through to the second part of our fuel security plan – which is about driving a major expansion of national fuel storage capacity. This will see the construction and operation of an additional 780 million litres of liquid fuel storage in Australia.”

See what he did there? A quick switch from talking about “barrels” to “litres” and it all looks tremendous, so tremendous, as how many people know the number of litres in a barrel or angels on the head of a pin?

There are 159 litres to a barrel, thus the big 780 million litres figure drops back to 4.9 million barrels – a bit less than industry is being required to add to its diesel stocks.

Oil prices fell below zero for the first time in history in the US.

The global oil industry has a limited amount of storage capacity. Photo: Getty 

Using last year’s figures to get away from ‘rona recession distortion (Australians bought 22 per cent more petroleum products in July 2019 than July 2020), we averaged 166 million litres (1.04 million barrels) a day of total petroleum products – petrol, aviation, diesel, fuel oil, LPG, grease, whatever.

So that additional 780 million litres is 4.5 days’ worth. Better hope whatever problems we’re worried about don’t last long.

“These steps complement the Government’s decisive action earlier this year to take advantage of low oil prices and secure 1.5 million barrels of crude oil, stored in the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

True – but it might be better if it was false. The government did buy 1.5 million barrels (we’re back to barrels again, being crude) and banked it in the US strategic reserve. The reserve is on the US east coast i.e. a long way away as a vulnerable oil tanker sails.

In fact, from the Port of Houston to the Port of Sydney is 16,412 nautical miles, a route that includes four of the world’s five oceans. Sailing at an efficient 12 knots, it would take 57 days at sea. Pushing it to 15 knots, our 1.5 million barrels are 45.6 days away.

Remember how many days storage we have in Australia?

Anyway, after the crude gets here, it would need to be refined, which takes time and with a bit of luck, 75 per cent of each barrel ends up as petrol and diesel – which would be some 179 million litres combined.

In rough round numbers, we burn through about 3.8 billion litres of them in a normal month – about 125 million litres a day.

Yes, such is the government’s “decisive action” that when Angus Taylor’s 1.5 million barrels eventually get here after their world tour, they’ll provide less than two days’ supply of petrol and diesel.

And I suspect we’re paying someone in the US for storing the oil.

You might wonder why Angus Taylor would do such a thing, who could realistically benefit for such a scheme. I do, too.

If you’ve followed this far, you’re already ahead of me and I don’t need to do any more, other to express my admiration of and sympathy for people who fact-check politicians’ speeches for a living.

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