Australia backs long-term gas drilling despite 2050 climate goals

SYDNEY (Reuters)Australia's Labor government on Thursday laid out a strategy to boost natural gas development even as it remains committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, highlighting demand from key Asian trade partners.

Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and Resources Minister Madeline King said gas would be needed "through to 2050 and beyond" in the global shift to cleaner energy.

"It is clear we will need continued exploration, investment and development in the sector to support the path to net-zero for Australia and for our export partners, and to avoid a shortfall in gas supplies," she said, launching the government's Future Gas Strategy.

Australia supplied around a fifth of global LNG shipped last year, with the largest projects run by Chevron and Woodside Energy Group in Western Australia, with its biggest customers in China, Japan and South Korea.

The center-left government came up with the new strategy after facing criticism for a range of short-term measures it took to boost domestic gas supply and drive down soaring energy prices in 2022 in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine.

The plan lays out ways to reduce Australia's emissions, such as leasing more offshore acreage for carbon capture and storage, while encouraging development of new gas fields, including tightening "use it or lose it" provisions on existing leases.

It comes as Woodside and Santos battle environmentalists opposing gas projects they are developing off northwestern Australia, while smaller companies face opponents to shale gas drilling in the Northern Territory.

"The strategy also makes it clear that we can't rely on past investments to get us through the next decades, as existing fields deplete," King said in a column in the Australian Financial Review on Thursday. "That will mean a continued commitment to exploration, and an openness to the kinds of foreign investment that have helped build the industry into the powerhouse it is today."

The announcement was welcomed by energy producers but criticized by renewable energy advocates and environmentalists.

"The Future Gas Strategy announced today promotes a reckless plan to open up new industrial gas basins that will damage land, water and communities," Carmel Flint, national coordinator at environmental group Lock the Gate, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in Sydney; Editing by Richard Chang and Sonali Paul)


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