. . And Australia Is Somewhere in the Middle

By Editors

Australia remains a strange case. It is rich in energy resources - most of them, at least - but is reluctant to use others and is digging itself into a hole as far as oil imports are concerned.

The graph shows the pattern over the last three decades. Oil exports are represented by the blue bar, oil imports by the red. Until earlier in the past decade, Australia was essentially self-sufficient and exported as much oil as it imported. That has changed drastically in the past ten years. Imports have now multiplied fourfold while exports have diminished to insignificance. What happened? Production on conventional wells started to decline while unconventional technologies have not yet been adopted. 

The Australian government has just issued a white paper charting the country's energy future. For overall production, Australia is in an excellent position. It ranks as the world's ninth-largest energy producer and is near the Asian industrial powerhouses - China, Korea and Japan - that do have a large demand for imports. As the world's largest coal exporter and third-largest uranium exporter, Australia has seen exports have nearly triple since 2004  from $24 to $69 billion.  Shell is currently building the world's first floating LNG terminal and Australia aspires to be the world's second-largest LNG exporter behind Qatar.

Despite having the world's largest reserves of uranium - 23 percent of the world supply - Australia has built no domestic reactors. There have even been efforts to shut down reactors producing medical isotopes and there was a movement to end uranium exports.  As a result, Australia produces 75 percent of its electricity with coal.

Liberal Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just imposed the world's first nationwide carbon tax so this will change. Energy will be getting more expensive. With no reactors and coal on the downswing, Australia's extensive uranium and coal resources will not provide much domestic help.  There is talk of developing geothermal resources in the Outback but this will require large-scale expansion of the transmission system. For now it appears as if Australia, like Russia, will have an excess of exportable resources while scrambling to meet domestic demand.

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