Academic journal article Rural Society

Community Perspectives of Coal Seam Gas Development during Two Phases of Industry Activity: Construction and Post-Construction

Academic journal article Rural Society

Community Perspectives of Coal Seam Gas Development during Two Phases of Industry Activity: Construction and Post-Construction

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Surat Basin (henceforth "SB") in southern Queensland, Australia, contains significant coal seam gas (CSG) reserves and is the upstream supply for the state's new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry. SB reserves supply 3 of Australia's 10 LNG processing projects, which, when completed in 2018, are expected to make Australia become the world' s leading exporter of LNG (Cassidy & Kosev, 2015). The CSG-LNG industry in Queensland has been developing over a 10-year period, with approximately $AU60 billion of investment in construction in SB between 2010 and 2014 (GasFields Commission Queensland, 2014). This created an unprecedented spike in economic development in rural areas of southern Queensland previously dedicated to agribusiness.

CSG development in SB adds a useful example to the resources extraction literature because the industry differs from discrete mining operations in leading to dispersed and extensive community implications (Measham & Fleming, 2014). Whereas mining projects are often situated in remote areas and directly affect relatively few residents, SB has a relatively high population density of existing towns and communities. Between 20,000 and 40,000 wells are planned over the life of the project, all needing connection to a distribution system necessitating a grid of pipes and wells on hundreds of landholders' properties. Another distinguishing feature of SB projects is concomitant development of the LNG industry in the state which adds further complexity. Furthermore, in Australia, underground resources belong to the State and therefore landowners have limited legal rights as to whether resource extraction occurs on their properties.

Three multinational companies are concurrently developing SB's gas fields for LNG export (Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics [BREE], 2014) which entailed construction of three independent sets of CSG infrastructure, including pipelines, from gas fields to LNG plants on the coast, compressor stations along the distribution pipeline, water treatment plants and gas processing facilities, and associated roads and electricity to access and service these developments (GasFields Commission Queensland, 2015). Government approvals for the three CSG-LNG projects were completed in 2011-2012, and by the end of 2013, the construction phase peaked. Industry estimated nearly 40,000 workers (direct and contracted) employed in Queensland were working on CSG-LNG projects, with approximately 27,000 employed in SB's gas fields (Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association [APPEA], 2013). Many were non-resident workers housed in workers' camps (Queensland Government Statistician's Office [QGSO], 2014). By the end of 2014, most infrastructure associated with the CSG-LNG industry was largely completed (GasFields Commission Queensland, 2015) and the non-resident population was projected to decline rapidly as the construction workforce reduced and switched to a smaller ongoing operations and maintenance workforce (QGSO, 2015). Additionally, the CSG industry was new to Australia and rapid development occurred before systems for industry monitoring were complete. Relevant policy and guidelines were developed in parallel with the rollout of gas activity and CSG construction occurred just after local government structures were amalgamated and not functioning at maximum efficiency.

Understanding how this affected rural communities, their expectations, and future aspirations may provide a platform for meaningful community and company engagement (Bowen, Newenham-Kahindi, & Herremans, 2010; Owen & Kemp, 2013). Furthermore, understanding how perceptions change over time is useful for policy and local decision-makers who need to plan, develop and mobilize often-scarce resources in response to change. Few studies concerning unconventional gas have described findings about a specific industry phase, or documented community perceptions over time (Jacquet, 2014). …

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