GasFields Commission calls for immediate action to resolve ongoing coexistence issues

The GasFields Commission Queensland (the Commission) is today calling on all stakeholders involved to urgently act to resolve ongoing coexistence issues emanating from Arrow Energy’s (Arrow) Surat Gas Project development activities, near Dalby on the Western Downs.

The Commission acknowledges ongoing community concerns regarding a number of Arrow’s recent development activities on intensively farmed land and whether these activities are compliant with statutory requirements, including the exemption criteria under the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 (the RPI Act).

To help address these concerns and provide certainty to the broader community, the Commission has formally requested the State Government provide details of its expectations on compliance and how resource companies are meeting these statutory requirements under the RPI Act.

The Commission’s CEO Warwick Squire commented, “The allegations and complaints levelled against Arrow are being driven by a common desire held by regional communities to understand what a resource company’s regulatory obligations are, and if they are complying with these requirements.

“That is why we are now calling on the government to finalise their investigations into compliance issues as a matter of urgency. This will provide much needed community assurance that the State’s regulatory framework requirements are being enforced”.

Importantly, a lack of transparency and clarity around statutory obligations associated with the RPI Act was one of the key findings in the Commission’s ‘Review of the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 Assessment Process Report’ (the report).

The report’s findings identified the use of exemptions to the Regional Interests Development Approval (RIDA) process meant stakeholders and government had difficulty ascertaining the extent and types of activities being undertaken in areas of regional interest.

“Yesterday the Commission received confirmation that the government has now considered our seven recommendations and ‘supports four of the recommendations and supports in principle the remaining three recommendations’.

“We are extremely pleased to see the government adopting our recommendations as this will most certainly aid in alleviating a number of landholder concerns regarding coexistence and the RPI Act,” Mr Squire said.

Following on from the Commission’s review of the RPI Act, coal seam gas (CSG) induced subsidence has also emerged as a significant concern of landholders in areas of intensively farmed land.

In response to these concerns, the Commission has taken a leadership role and is reviewing the adequacy of the regulatory framework for subsidence, with a view to identifying potential enhancements to the current framework.

Preliminary findings indicate that whilst there are already protections afforded to landholders under the existing regulatory framework, these protections need to be enhanced.

The Commission is currently finalising this review and will make formal recommendations to the State Government in early March 2022.

The Commission has also commenced a body of research into the potential consequences of CSG subsidence at the farm scale.

This work will be fundamental in providing landholders with information on what subsidence might mean to their farming operations and builds upon subsidence assessment undertaken by the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment, published in the Draft Underground Water Impact Report 2021 for the Surat Cumulative Management Area.

“Finally today, the Commission is calling on Arrow to do more to improve their relations with regional communities and landholders.

“The Commission recognises the release of Arrow’s ‘Commitments to Surat Basin Landholders’ in late August 2021 as a positive step forward in working towards sustainable coexistence.

“The Commission has been monitoring Arrow’s performance against these commitments and whilst we have observed improvement, a ‘continuous improvement approach’ will be required to meet the community’s expectations.

“For the benefit of all stakeholders, it is vital the government urgently clarify outstanding issues relating to statutory obligations and compliance.

“As the Commission’s purpose is to manage and improve sustainable coexistence between landholders, regional communities and Queensland’s onshore gas industry, it is important we remain committed to overseeing how well the government are implementing and enforcing the current regulatory frameworks.

“Our oversight function has now led us to a crucial juncture where we are publicly calling on both government and industry to deliver marked improvements and reforms, thus allowing the sustainable coexistence between landholders, regional communities and Queensland’s onshore gas industry to advance,” Mr Squire said.

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Who are the GasFields Commission Queensland?

Established as an independent statutory body in 2013, the Commission’s purpose is to manage and improve the sustainable coexistence of landholders, regional communities and the onshore gas industry in Queensland. The Commission manages sustainable coexistence in petroleum and gas producing regions of Queensland, and will continue to do so as the industry expands into new and emerging basins.

Our vision is to achieve thriving communities in areas of gas development that are free from discord and supported by well-informed, respectful and balanced stakeholder relationships.

One way the Commission is endeavouring to realise this vision is by providing transparency and independent assurances that the onshore gas industry is appropriately regulated and held to account when needed. This in turn will help cultivate sustainable coexistence, whilst ensuring community and landholder confidence in the regulators and gas industry increases.

Drawing on its wealth of experience in the development of the gas industry and by collaborating with other relevant entities, the Commission provides a range of support to communities and landholders, primarily through education and engagement. These education and engagement activities occur with individual landholders via Commission facilitated webinars, information sessions, publications (The Gas Guide, Shared Landscapes Reports), face-to-face meetings and public workshops.

It should be noted that the Commission does not engage in individual negotiations between landholders and gas companies, but rather provides communities and landholders with the information and support they need to make informed decisions and achieve good outcomes.