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Coal Seam Gas (CSG) in Queensland: Support for Expansion to Cause Corrosive Atmosphere

March 26, 2012

Coal Seam Gas development and regulation was a key electoral issue in the election which the LNP won handsomely.  A core electoral tenet was that the outgoing Labor Government failed to provide efficiency and clarity in the development process for CSG.  A promise of the incoming Government is to fix this, providing greater benefit to communities, and support industry expansion.

They might find it a hard task.

The Queensland resources sector has grown at phenomenal rates in recent years, badly stretching the capacity of officials to keep abreast.  Queensland accounts for over half of Australia’s black coal, and is an important player in an emerging seaborne global market in Liquefied Natural Gas.  Federal and State Governments struggle to juggle responsibilities and jurisdictional authority over development.

To get an idea of the pace of industry expansion in Queensland see the telling graphs below:

Queensland Coal Seam Gas Production 1997 to 2011

Queensland Coal Seam Gas 2P Reserves (Proved and Probable)

CSG industry development has experienced strong and determined regional community and agricultural opposition.  As a consequence, the Government will seek to balance industry development, regional, and agricultural concerns:

our LNP Agriculture Strategy, with the aim to double agiricultural production by 2040, confirms that we are committed to protecting strategic cropping land in Queensland by clearly identifying it under an improved system of Statutory Regional Planning. We have made it clear that we will not allow any open cut mining, and that we won’t allow underground mining, CSG activity or other development on strategic cropping land if it is likely to have a significant, adverse impact on the productive capacity of that land to produce food and fibre in the future.

The LNP is targeting compensation to landowners and communities, and stringent consent conditions and monitoring.  They are also proposing to establish a ‘Gasfields Land and Water Commission’ to try to iron out conflicts.  How it will do this is unclear.

The LNP strategy goes into quite a bit of detail concerning the particularities of land access, individual and community definitions and mechanics for compensation, and determination of both underground and surface water management practice related both to water quality and quantity.

The specified water impacts reports which are at the heart of how the Government would try to generate robust environmental outcomes would seem to say much about predictions and monitoring, but not about the basis for regional or local standards and conditions – those irksome details are kicked down the road.

This is one indication of many that the sweeping intent displayed within the document concerning development and operation consent processes may be much less easy to implement in practice.

Realities of governing will see to it that one side or the other will end up unhappy.

The scale and pace of CSG expansion urged by the industry leads to a relationship between developers, communities and land-owners which is as corrosive as a CSG-tapped saline acquifer.

Be that as it may, it’s now pretty clear that CSG will benefit from overt Government support for their industry.  However, the transition from policy support to regulatory clarity may not be quick and easy, nor devoid of legal challenge.

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