Better community engagement can help add value to onshore gas projects in Australia, according to GasFields Commission Queensland chairman, John Cotter. Mr Cotter was speaking in Perth today (Monday) at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) annual conference.
The GasFields Commission is an independent statutory body overseeing the relationships between the onshore gas industry, rural landholders and regional communities in Queensland.
Mr Cotter said the cost of gas development in Australia is considered high relative to other countries especially when it comes to exploration, well development and project execution.
“As seen in Queensland with the recent rapid growth of the coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas (CSG-LNG) export industry, the cost and timing of these critical phases has depended to a large extent on a level of community support.
“Negotiating access to land and managing the social, environmental and economic impacts of these projects for issues such as groundwater, roads, housing and local services all require significant community engagement to help build understanding and trust.
“Better community engagement can also help lower ‘social’ risk for projects which has become increasingly important factor for many financiers and investment firms when considering where to direct their dollars.
However, Mr Cotter said from his experience in Queensland, the onshore gas industry is now lifting its game on community engagement.
“I’m encouraged by the growing number of explorers and developers who now engage with the Commission and who are proactively seeking to build a social licence for their projects.”
He said strong and decisive government leadership in Queensland has also helped provide the right balance between the needs of the community, resource sector and agriculture.
“The new regional planning laws passed by the Queensland Parliament last month provide a fairer and more balanced framework in which to better plan and assess upfront mining and gas developments especially in sensitive areas of prime agricultural land.
“Importantly the new laws offer strong incentives for resource companies to reach mutually beneficial agreements with landholders. It allows regional communities and the government to more properly plan for and apply common sense conditions on new developments.
He said with Queensland’s CSG-LNG industry set to expand its well development program over coming decades and the rise in shale gas exploration activity, there is still much more to be done to build and maintain community trust and understanding across the State.
Mr Cotter said bringing the science and research to the table on critical issues like groundwater has been another important factor in building community confidence in Queensland and is a key focus for the GasFields Commission.
“In addition to the extensive groundwater technology and knowhow of the CSG industry, Queensland has its own independent agency – the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) - to model and monitor the immediate and long term water impacts.
“OGIA also undertakes its own comprehensive research program investigating a range of related groundwater issues from aquitard permeability to aquifer interconnectivity and groundwater chemistry.”
“There is a huge amount of science that underpins the onshore gas industry – however more needs to be done by industry, government and the science community themselves to better communicate that science and help to better inform the public,” he said.
Mr Cotter reiterated that in the same way Australian farmers have the ongoing challenge of explaining to urban audiences how their food is produced, so to the onshore gas industry has to do a better job of explaining the energy story.
“It’s not about how many royalties or jobs the industry creates but pure and simple how you produce the gas that fires up their barbeque, powers up their home or runs their factory,” he said.