6.2.2 Media analysis

Information was sourced from various media for this analysis including print, radio, television and the internet, with a total of 37 items reviewed. Because this is a retrospective examination of the media, some earlier articles have not been located despite various searches and requests to the project developers, however a range of topics that were covered from 2006 until now have been included. Articles were searched according to a set of terms identified in Table 4 following. Google’s search engine and the ANZ Proquest Newsstand online database were used to obtain the articles. The 2006 excerpt from the Queensland Parliament reporting demonstrates how the project was first announced. See Appendix C for a full list of media reports sourced for this media analysis.

Table 4 Media analysis - search terms

  Search Terms
CCS Emerald
Carbon capture and storage Springsure
Carbon dioxide capture and storage Rockhampton
Carbon storage Queensland
Carbon capture IGCC
ZeroGen Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle
Stanwell Stanwell Corporation

2006

Early media reports discussed the project as being linked to the Stanwell Corporation, Queensland coal-fired electricity generator, located in Stanwell in the outer regions of Rockhampton from where it was originally anticipated CO2 gases from coal burning would be transferred to the injection site yet to be announced. Various components of the project were covered in different media, including the two technologies to be combined in the final project operational phase, IGCC and CCS. Information about how the technology worked, why it was being considered as a mitigation option and the type of geological structure necessary for storage were also discussed. Various locations were considered in the media as being options for the plant, with the Springsure region being the most commonly considered.

In October 2006, the Federal Government announced $125 million funding for two CCS-related demonstration projects: the Fairview Power project designed to extract methane from coal, and the Callide Power Station retrofitting of CS Energy’s oxy-fuel demonstration project. Shell announced its participation in the development of ZeroGen’s IGCC/CCS power plant to be built by Stanwell Corporation, and located near Rockhampton in central Queensland with CO2 to be stored in aquifers deep underground near Emerald.

Project Announcement

Ministerial Statement Great Barrier Reef Clean Coal Trial

Hon. PD BEATTIE (Brisbane Central—ALP) (Premier) (9.51 am): The Great Barrier Reef is Queensland’s jewel in the crown—an extraordinary natural wonder that brings visitors and researchers from all over the world. This summer, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has already reported serious bleaching of reefs around the Keppel Islands and bleaching around Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island and offshore from the Whitsundays. The reef has suffered two major coral bleaching events, the first in 1998 and a second more serious event in 2002. In that year between 60 per cent to 95 per cent of the reef was affected and around five per cent was severely damaged or lost.

The Marine Park Authority continues to monitor the condition of the reef but it serves as a warning to all governments that we must take action. Yet the federal Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Mr Ian Macfarlane, has dismissed climate change. Fortunately, his colleague the federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, has publicly stated on many occasions that climate change is a massive threat to the reef—and the senator is right. The Prime Minister, I and other state and territory leaders have agreed that greater action must be taken on addressing climate change. It was one of the many issues on last Friday’s COAG agenda. If the Prime Minister and his environment minister are serious about the issue they need to ensure Mr Macfarlane understands the facts about climate change and the serious nature of its consequences.

The Queensland government is moving to help alleviate this threat which could jeopardise the jobs of 63,000 people and the $5.8 billion that the reef generates for our nation’s economy. We are supporting the development of new clean coal technologies. I am pleased to announce today that in a first for Australia the Queensland government owned Stanwell Corporation Limited is about to begin a feasibility study and test drilling in the Springsure-Emerald area. Stanwell is taking the lead in the research and development of clean coal technologies. That means long-term job security for Queensland’s strong coal industry and for the thousands of families who depend upon it. Test drilling will begin in May in the Denison Trough to evaluate the area.

During the test water will be injected deep underground into sandstone reservoirs to determine their quality. As part of the testing around 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide—about three tanker loads—will be injected into the well. This is the clean coal technology process. The test will allow the company to determine the long-term feasibility of two cutting-edge technologies: firstly, a process to covert coal into gas, removing carbon dioxide to produce a high-hydrogen fuel used to generate power; and a second technology that captures and compresses carbon dioxide to allow it to be stored underground. If the tests prove successful Stanwell will build a demonstration facility that will combine carbon capture and safe storage of carbon dioxide, which will be a world first.

Stanwell is seeking funding from the federal government’s Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund and I look forward to working with the Prime Minister to make the internationally significant project a reality. This research could guarantee the future of Queensland’s coal industry. There is no point in having 300 years supply of coal if we cannot sell it to the world. We all understand the pressures that are created through climate change. This science and research project will give us an opportunity to protect that industry and also protect the environment.

Queensland Parliament, 2006

2007

In 2007, media coverage was mixed. Discussion around pipeline lengths from capture points to storage points caused concern with the coal industry, sceptical in regards to the distance the CO2 had to travel from the ZeroGen power plant to the geological storage site some 250 km away. This in turn resulted in discussion of a national common user pipeline plan for CCS to support CO2 capture via all technologies.

Also in 2007, ZeroGen featured negatively in a public dispute between then Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and then Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane. In a report headed: “Clean Coal Project Fails” covered by The Australian on 30 May, Minister Macfarlane claimed that ZeroGen had collapsed due to failing to show investors that it had a commercial future, and this was why the Federal Government would not support it.

More positively, Chris Wheeler, ZeroGen’s Project Manager, announced that a community meeting would take place in Gladstone organised by the Gladstone Institute of Engineers. This meeting aimed to outline the successes to date of the first round of drilling near Springsure, reinforcing that ZeroGen was making progress in the capture and storage of carbon dioxide.

At the same time there was a change in government at the federal level, and a new Prime Minister with a focus on climate change was elected.

2008

In 2008, media reports focused on potential difficulties in raising funds to support the development of the technology, which was considered to be required to avoid dangerous climate change. It was reported that ZeroGen had undergone a reconfiguration process so that it would be able to produce more power in a short timeframe so as to be more attractive to industry and government. Media reports looked at the capability of the technology to effectively remove up to 90 per cent of CO2 from gas waste from the plant. Discussion also focused on the viability of the technology from a cost perspective, an issue that was debated by the Australian Greens political party, which considered that public funds should not be devoted to clean coal technology.

Announcement of community briefings were also the subject of media coverage in 2008, commencing in Stanwell, moving to Blackwater, Springsure and Emerald. The ZeroGen Stakeholder Manager, Chai McConnell, indicated that the demonstration power station could be operating by 2012 with lessons learned from stage one incorporated into stage two processes. McConnell was also noted as indicating 2017 as the year the plant would become operational.

Concerns raised by Rockhampton Regional Councillor Sandra O’Brien regarding transporting of waste gas via trucks from Stanwell to outlying areas in the Emerald region instead of the initially indicated pipelines were prominent in local media at the time. Other concerns included information that the project would not be able to deliver 90 per cent reductions of CO2 from waste gas as indicated rather 70 per cent reductions were cited by the media.

Environmentalist Dr Tim Flannery expressed his doubts over efforts being extended by the Queensland Resources Council towards developing low emissions technologies for electricity generation in Queensland. This was rebutted by Michael Roche of the Queensland Resources Council who indicated that the coal industry had committed about $600 million over 10 years in support of the low emissions technology including two demonstration projects, ZeroGen and Callide.

The stalled nature of the United States Department of Energy’s FutureGen Project caused substantial concern and was well represented in media reports in 2008, with anticipated setbacks to the technology’s development cited to be three to five years. This concern was reiterated in the media over the closure of the Western Australian joint CCS trial by BP and Rio Tinto due to geological formations at the Kwinana trial site being inappropriate for long-term CO2 sequestration. These events were considered bad omens for ZeroGen, which was yet to break ground on its plant construction, whereas it was noted that other large scale low emissions technology, such as solar, wind and geothermal, were available and ready to go.

Minister Ferguson’s comments regarding the importance of CCS for the long term sustainability of coal-fired power generation was reported on as an indication of the government’s support of the coal industry as opposed to climate protection. The government announced that clean coal power plants would be possible and several would be in operation by 2020. Per tonne costs for carbon and capture were also topics of discussion with $40 to $45 per tonne being considered.

Media coverage in this period also included the release of Professor Ross Garnaut’s report on climate change. The report was commissioned in 2007 by the Australian federal, state and territory governments, and endorsed acceleration of research, development and commercialisation programs for low emissions energy-generation technologies. Both Callide and ZeroGen were seen as central to this process.

2009

In 2009, media coverage was again mixed but predominantly positive. Concerns were raised by the Federal Opposition’s Greg Hunt regarding the need for demonstration plants such as ZeroGen to be required to purchase paid carbon permits under the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It was indicated that there was potential for projects such as ZeroGen to fail as a result of carbon permit costs being too high to justify operation. Hunt accused the Government of not supporting clean coal in Australia. Job losses were cited with other concerns including the company being wound down at the time. Assurance was provided by Minister Ferguson that projects such as ZeroGen would be exempt from this program. The Government was noted as having provided $100 million towards the formation of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute in 2008.

The media actively covered the Weller Review conducted on behalf of the Queensland Government to assist in determining more productive ways in which the government should manage its various funding and grant programs. The review noted that an independent study should be conducted to determine if the coal industry should take over the ZeroGen project. The media noted that the Queensland Natural Resources Minister, Stephen Robertson, indicated that the government was considering winding up the project. Tony Maher, of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, was reported as implying that a move to wind up the project would be detrimental and that he would condemn such a move. The State Government indicated that the project required additional funding from the Federal Government for it to continue. These concerns were reiterated in several media articles with the main focus on the substantial cost of a project such as ZeroGen and the potential loss of taxpayers’ money already spent on the project.

In this same period, Carbon Energy announced it would be storing waste gas emissions from its Surat Basin operations in Southern Queensland within 18 months, with ZeroGen’s Central Queensland site identified as the potential recipient of transported waste gases.

Media announced that the Federal Government would spend $120 million on low emissions power plants, with funding being allocated to four projects including ZeroGen. This funding was considered essential to assist the projects due to the level of competition traditional power plants imposed. The Queensland Government, having already invested $102.5 million into ZeroGen and other demonstration projects, was noted to welcome the Federal Government support. Mining unions were also reported to be in favour of the Federal Government’s investment, Tony Maher indicating that it was a boost for Queensland regional areas. He said that time was a factor, with a need for the technology to be proven before 2015.

Media coverage towards the end of 2009 indicated that the region west of Gladstone would be the site for ZeroGen’s new IGCC/CCS power plant, noting that the area had been earmarked to play a role in Australia’s low carbon future. Queensland was once more being considered as being placed to become a world leader in clean coal technology. After the Queensland Government Coordinator-General declared ZeroGen a significant project, an EIS was announced to be undertaken, with construction indicated to possibly commence in 2012 with the plant operational by 2020.

2010

Media coverage in 2010 was primarily positive. Coverage focused on the EIS being undertaken in Central Queensland for the ZeroGen project, and various options for siting the plant in the Emerald/Blackwater region. Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries move for involvement in the project was well covered, as was a pre-feasibility study being undertaken by ZeroGen. In February, the Queensland Government announced that a draft terms of reference on environmental investigations surrounding ZeroGen, had been released for comment and, if approved, would result in some 2000 construction jobs for regional Queensland. Gladstone’s Regional Council was reported in March to endorse the terms of reference. As part of the EIS process, ZeroGen conducted public consultation on the draft terms of reference involving government agencies, environmental NGOs, local government and individual community members from the region under study. This included areas from Biloela to the east of the state to Emerald in the west. Meetings and briefings were held in multiple locations including Biloela, Blackwater, Emerald, Comet, Brisbane, Rockhampton and Mackay and these were covered in various local media.

About the same time as the draft terms of reference release, concern was raised in the media by the Banana Shire Council regarding ZeroGen’s failure to comply with a State Government discussion paper on sustainable development and land resources, citing competing land uses and the need to ensure balanced outcomes was not taken into consideration. The council was noted as implying that the government had allowed policy to be impacted by the developers and the mining industry. Concern was emphasised due to the timing of a meeting to discuss the submission with the council.

The Australian Greens were reported to consider clean coal technology as a ‘scam’ that pandered to the mining industry and unions, and that the process would not stand up to scrutiny and extensive testing. In early 2010, media comment included the December 2009 Copenhagen UNFCCC’s summit refusal to include clean coal in its CDM funding mechanism. In April, the media covered John Cotter, AgForce president’s firm objections to the technology, noting his uncertainty about its safety and potential negative impacts on underground water resources. Around this time, media also covered findings released by Houston and the College of London universities which indicated that it was impossible for one small coal-fired power plant to effectively reduce CO2 emissions sufficient enough to make any impact on climate change, saying that CCS technology would take up time but result in little and was a potentially dangerous diversion.

The high cost associated with the development and deployment of CCS was once more in the media towards the end of the first half of 2010 with comparisons drawn between current financial support of low emissions technologies such as clean-coal plants as opposed to solar plants. The media reported that eight solar plant projects would receive $15 million for studies (five with sites), with two winners to receive one-third funding from the Queensland Government. NSW however, had committed $120 million for a state solar bidding program, while Victoria had committed more than $100 million to the technology’s development, and a further $50 million for Silex Systems to build a solar plant near Mildura. It was reported however, that no large scale solar plants were planned for Queensland but that the state had committed $300 million to develop clean-coal power stations.

Local activity in the Emerald and Springsure regions attracted media coverage when students and teachers attended two events that provided educational opportunities for gaining knowledge around sustainable practices and climate change mitigation, with representatives from industry, research and other organisations, including ZeroGen, in attendance.