By Michael Perry
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia plans to allow greenhouse gas emissions to be stored in the ocean floor around the island continent, with exploration for suitable sites possibly starting in 2008.
Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the government would amend the Offshore Petroleum Act this year to allow for seabed storage of carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations.
"Australia has significant geological storage potential, particularly in our offshore sedimentary basins," Ferguson told an energy conference in Sydney late on Tuesday.
"I am hoping that amendments to the Offshore Petroleum Act 2006 will be passed in time for the government to release acreage for exploration in 2008, making Australia one of the first countries in the world to establish a regulated carbon capture and storage regime," Ferguson said.
Green groups are critical of the plan to store carbon emissions in the ocean floor, saying they are concerned about the chances of leakage of emissions into the ocean environment.
"The coal and energy corporations are doubtless lobbying hard for the government to carry all liability for any leakages while they continue to profit from their polluting practices," Greens Senator Christine Milne told local media on Wednesday.
Australia's Labor government, elected in November 2007, ratified the Kyoto Protocol the following month, reversing an 11-year policy by the previous conservative government.Rudd's government has made climate change a priority and has released a "National Clean Coal Initiative" which will see a regulatory regime for access and tenure to offshore Australia for geological storage.
Australia is the world's largest coal exporter and is reliant on fossil fuel for transport and energy. About 80 percent of electricity is produced by coal-fired power stations.
THe country is responsible for about 1.2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the highest polluters per capita.
Its carbon emissions are forecast to continue to grow due to its heavy reliance on coal for electricity, although the government says the country will meet its Kyoto emissions targets by 2012. Emissions will grow by 108 percent of 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012.
"Coal will continue to make a major contribution to Australia's energy needs well into the future and therefore we need to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity generation," said Ferguson.
"Clean coal technologies involving carbon capture and storage will play a vital role in meeting future greenhouse constraints. A nationally co-ordinated effort is needed to bring forward the commercial availability of these technologies."