Momentum seems to be building for unconventional gas
development in NSW and Victoria with the Federal Industry Minister
announcing an urgent CSG summit and the Abbott Government's
promise to streamline project approvals.
Now the sector must move beyond focusing solely on lobbying
government and reach out to communities that remain seriously
concerned about unconventional gas development.
Successful resource development requires more than formal
government approval – projects also need broad acceptance
from the community. This is the concept of a "social licence
To obtain its social licence the unconventional gas industry
must acknowledge the high level of anxiety around gas extraction
and explain what is being done (in terms of environmental
management plans, and advancement in extraction technology) to
allay fears about the environmental and public health impacts of
What is needed are community engagement strategies across NSW
and Victoria that connect unconventional gas developers with
community stakeholders and get them talking. Done well, these
strategies will not only strengthen the industry's case to
government but also bolster its "social licence to
operate" if and when restrictions are lifted. Community
acceptance inevitably reduces the risk of costly project
For an example of what can happen when there is a weak social
licence to operate, NSW and Victorian unconventional gas companies
need look no further than north of the NSW border.
In Queensland, a mismatch between the intensity of CSG
development and the level of public education and consultation
resulted in strong community backlash.
Misinformation about the impact of CSG operations on local
communities has caused entrenched community distrust of the
Community concerns have ranged from the use of chemicals and the
level of environmental safeguards to the effect of CSG operations
on groundwater, agricultural land and biodiversity. The
community's opposition to CSG projects in Queensland has been
expressed through organised resistance, political lobbying, media
reports and direct action. The CSG industry has had to work hard to
overcome this distrust.
To avoid a similar fate, gas players in NSW and Victoria must
work hard to secure their social licence for large-scale
unconventional gas development. This means:
providing reasonable assurance that gas extraction will not
cause long term environmental harm;
communicating authentically such that local communities will be
receptive to the message that gas players can operate without
harming the environment;
assuring communities that any social or economic impacts from
projects will be recognised and quickly addressed; and
demonstrating the net benefits that will accrue to people
living in and near areas where gas is to be extracted beyond just
an absence of environmental harm1.
Industry should now focus on developing links with the community
so that it is well-placed to proceed at the time restrictions are
If unconventional gas companies in the NSW and Victoria fail to
bring their stakeholders along with them for the journey, they may
find themselves similarly exposed as their Queensland cousins to
project delays and cost blowouts.
1Australian Council of Learned Academies,
Engineering Energy: Unconventional Gas Production – A study
of shale gas in Australia – Final Report (2013) pp
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