Since Total announced a large natural gas find off the coast of Mossel Bay last year, energy discussions in SA have become increasingly dominated by these so-called "game-changer discoveries".
We are told that the discoveries — and all the gas infrastructure required to be built to exploit them — will "ignite the gas economy", and we are told that gas is essential as a "transition fuel", to form a bridge between our current coal-dominated, and future low-carbon, energy systems.
As pressure grows on the government to take action on climate change, and it becomes ever more obvious that coal’s days are numbered, those who stand to make big bucks from new gas megaprojects — fossil fuel companies, banks, oil and gas consultants, lawyers and, of course, politicians — are becoming more vociferous about a new golden age of natural gas (or fossil gas, as it is more accurately described by climate activists).
It is truly remarkable how seldom we see even the most superficial interrogation of the truth or accuracy of gas-related pronouncements. This is particularly concerning because almost everyone who touts gas as a "game-changer" has a vested interest in gas-focused policy developments.
These vested interests refer to natural gas as "green gas" or "clean gas" — PR-invented nonsense terms like "clean coal".
While burning natural gas releases about 55% of the carbon dioxide (CO²) of burning coal, it is still very much a fossil fuel. Natural gas is also made up of 95% methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO².
In addition to the effects of burning natural gas for power, there are also significant climate impacts from the release of methane into the atmosphere — both accidental and deliberate — during oil and gas extraction and transport.
The concept of gas as a "transition fuel" must be seen in a global context. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world must be half-decarbonised by 2030, and fully decarbonised by 2050, if we are to hit the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
If we burn the fossil fuels from already operating or under-construction oil and gas fields and coal mines, we won’t even hit a 2°C target.
There is simply no space in the global carbon budget for new fossil fuel exploration and production, irrespective of whether you consider yourself to be a "developed" or "developing" economy.