Unconventional Gas Development in Queensland: The Social Licence Imperative

The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Centre for Natural Gas has released the findings from an intensive 6-month study testing Queensland’s experience against the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) “Golden Rules of Gas ¹” (the Golden Rules) – a set of principles developed by the IEA to guide what it takes for natural gas developments globally to gain better social acceptance.

The IEA’s Golden Rules underline the importance of full transparency, measuring and monitoring of environmental impacts, engagement with local communities, rigorous environmental assessments, monitoring of water requirements/wastewater and improved project planning and regulatory control. With gas expected to account for a quarter of the world’s energy mix by 2040, it is essential to understand what is involved for proponents and governments in new gas developments to meet and exceed their social licence obligations.

UQ’s research was conducted by way of interviewing stakeholders who have been directly involved in the development of Queensland’s coal seam gas (CSG) industry, including local, state and federal governments, gas companies, host communities and landholders, as well as researchers and consultant ‘experts’. The GasFields Commission (the Commission) was called on to provide a number of background source materials ² ³, which were used as reference materials in the study.

Professor Andrew Garnett (Director of UQ’s Centre for Natural Gas) noted the importance of achieving and maintaining a ‘social licence’ as imperative for industry to thrive and that it was interesting many of the respondents talked about the improvement they’d seen over time and their expectations that this would continue.

“If the legitimacy of industry hinges, at least in part, on whether people can come to believe that they have been treated fairly and will benefit from developments, then a set of high level guidelines or rules may help … provide a baseline guide for ongoing monitoring of performance and identifying areas where focused effort may be needed.”

“The strongest expectation coming through in the analysis was for even more transparency and disclosure from both the industry and government,” he said. “It is not about only being seen to be doing the right thing … it’s about demonstrably improving and transparently reporting the information – and making it widely accessible.”

Report Findings

A predominant theme that emerged from the interviews was that Queensland’s CSG industry has improved its performance across many of the Golden Rules as it matured and learned about local communities and the social, economic and ecological environments it operates in. The study found that the most important areas for improvement for both Queensland CSG companies and government agencies were in relation to the areas of full transparency and coordination/cumulative impact management.

The Commission was particularly pleased to hear the report’s findings indicated Queensland’s experience of CSG industry development rated reasonably well in relation to the Golden Rules – with scores of 3 or higher out of 5, for 4 of the 7 Golden Rule categories.

The Commission’s A/CEO Mr. Colin Cassidy commented, “The report’s findings recognise the great work done to date but underscore the vital need for continued and effective engagement between the Commission and all key stakeholders to further improve sustainable coexistence. With the Commission’s unique ability to facilitate engagement between key landholder, research, government, gas industry and regional community groups, we continue to support the development of mutually beneficial relationships throughout the industry. Consistent with the report, the Commission is dedicated to bringing about increased transparency in order to build heightened levels of trust (particularly amongst landholders) and effectively developing an enduring, industry-wide culture of sustainable coexistence.”

¹  IEA sets out the “Golden Rules” needed to usher in a Golden Age of Gas
²  On New Ground – Lessons from development of the world’s first export coal seam gas industry [2017]
³  Queensland’s Petroleum & Gas Industry Snapshot [2018]