In the past decade, natural gas companies in Australia have witnessed the industry’s continuous growth. While the country produced around 52 billion cubic meters of gas in 2010, this total was 142.5 billion in 2020. Production almost tripled during this period. Moreover, towards the end of the decade, Australia took over Qatar as the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter in the world.

This milestone reflects the investments made in Australia’s gas industry in recent years. In fact, more than AUD $300 billion has been spent on LNG plants from Western Australia to Queensland. But, investors’ concerns over the climate and the global push to decarbonise economies are having an impact on the industry’s future and its biggest players.

What are the biggest natural gas companies in Australia?

The top five of Australia’s biggest oil and gas companies are:

  1. BHP Billiton
  2. Woodside Petroleum
  3. Origin Energy
  4. Santos
  5. Caltex Australia

However, this varies when LNG production is taken into account. Indeed, the companies with the largest market share in this sector include Chevron, Shell, Woodside, Santos, INPEX and Origin Energy.

The reason why LNG production plays a major role in this ranking is because most of the gas in Australia is exported. Indeed, the country is a net natural gas exporter, with 82 per cent of its gas production going abroad. Additionally, the LNG export industry uses 12 times as much gas as the entire manufacturing industry. Therefore, LNG production can certainly show the biggest gas players in Australia.

Where do natural gas companies operate in Australia?

Nearly 30 per cent of Australia’s landmass is currently subject to gas exploration or applications from gas companies. However, the intensity of the onshore exploitation varies from region to region. For example, while gas projects expand over as much as 70 per cent of the Northern Territory’s landmass, this is just 13 per cent in Queensland.

Like the Northern region, South Australia has a high volume of gas endeavours, which expand over 59 per cent of its landmass. In contrast, this occupation is only 14 per cent in Western Australia. Yet, this state is the largest producer of gas in the country, accounting for around 60 per cent of total production.

In part, the high volumes coming from Western Australia result from offshore extraction. For instance, the offshore region around Karratha in the Northwest has conventional gas fields that have been operating for decades. Furthermore, the production from this region feeds the state’s mammoth North West Shelf liquefied gas export terminal. More than 5,700 LNG cargoes have sailed from this port throughout its lifetime.

image of Australia natural gas companies

What is the largest natural gas company in the North West Shelf?

The North West Shelf has participating interests from six companies:

  • Woodside
  • BHP Billiton Petroleum
  • BP Developments Australia
  • Chevron Australia
  • Japan Australia LNG
  • Shell Australia

Although Woodside is the company operating this LNG export terminal, all these participating companies have an equal share in the project. Therefore, each of them accounts for 16.67 per cent. Based on the number of employees, BHP Billiton is the largest oil and gas company on this project, with more than 72,000 employees.

Who is the biggest oil and gas producer in Australia?

Despite employing fewer people than BHP Billiton, Woodside is Australia’s largest operator of oil and gas production. Moreover, this firm is also Australia’s biggest independent dedicated oil and gas company. Woodside is also the company behind Scarborough, currently one of Australia’s most ambitious gas projects.

Scarborough, an offshore endeavour in Western Australia, would require an investment of AUD $16 billion. But, current climate change actions might seem to be affecting the feasibility of this project. Indeed, there is no green light for it yet, and Scarborough’s launch has been delayed several times. While Woodside’s acting chief executive, Meg O’Neill, has said that the project will come to fruition, other experts believe that there are no guarantees it will get off the ground. It does not help either that the company’s share price has halved over the past ten years.

Other oil and gas companies associated with climate change concerns are Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil. As a result of a Dutch court mandate, Shell must reduce its emissions much harder and faster than initially planned. Similarly, Chevron shareholders voted to cut the company’s pollution, and ExxonMobil was required to replace a quarter of its managing board with directors proposed by activist hedge funds. Therefore, investors’ climate concerns are now a key factor in the future of gas players in Australia.

Natural gas companies in Australia: How do they contribute to climate change?

Fossil fuels are the main drivers of climate change. This is because burning them to produce energy generates carbon dioxide, which warms up the planet. Although burning natural gas emits less CO2 than coal and oil, this does not mean that it is a low-carbon source of energy.

Australia’s annual CO2 emissions from gas went from 64.17 million tonnes in 2010 to 80.21 million tonnes in 2020. Besides, gas extraction also produces fugitive emissions. These are greenhouse gas emissions that occur during the extraction, processing and transportation of the fossil fuel.

graph of CO2 emissions by source

Naturally, Australia’s fugitive emissions have significantly increased in the last five years, along with gas production. In fact, fugitive emissions grew 46 per cent between 2005 and 2020. Consequently, if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050, there should not be any new projects or investments in coal or gas. This is according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Australia’s gas industry has developed rapidly in the last decade. Woodside, Santos, Chevron and Shell are among the biggest gas players in the country and participate in several projects currently in operation. Most of the gas extracted is transformed into LNG, which simultaneously requires more gas, and exported to other countries. As a result, Australia has become the top LNG exporter globally. However, along with its increase in gas production, the country’s CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions from gas have also increased.

The world needs to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. For this to be achieved, it is crucial that no new gas or coal investments take place.