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The Outlook for Coal Seam Gas – Mending fences in Queensland’s rural communities

Charged with the job of improving co-existence between the onshore gas industry, rural landholders and regional communities, the newly created Gas Fields Commission Queensland faces a challenging road ahead. Chairman John Cotter describes to QMEB the challenges and opportunities the Commission faces.

QGC Toowoomba

The Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industry in Queensland has not had the best of starts. Green groups and apprehensive property owners have all been very vocal in their opposition to the rapidly expanding sector. Concerns around groundwater contamination, excess methane gas emissions and access to private land are high on the agenda.

Where are we going to be in five or 20 years?

This is the resounding question rural landholders and regional communities ask GasFields Commission Queensland Chairman John Cotter.

It is a question he understands, having lived with exploration permits over his Goomeri property, located west of Gympie, and one that has guided his planning and strategies for decades through a career in agri-politics. In 2010, after serving two years as state farm group AgForce Queensland general president, he took on the role of chairing the Surat Basin CSG Engagement Group. The group brought CSG company senior executives, landholders, government and advocacy groups to the same table to discuss co-existence issues around land access and compensation and groundwater concerns.

While onshore gas has a long history in south-west Queensland – Roma’s Hospital Hill was the site of Australia’s first natural gas discovery in October 1900 – the rapid expansion of CSG production for a liquefied natural gas export market took many regional communities by surprise.

“In late 2009 and 2010 I started receiving hundreds of phone calls from landholders and AgForce members worried after they’d received a knock at the door,” Mr Cotter said. “Landholders said they were feeling pressured to sign agreements with an industry they knew little about.

“There is an enormous opportunity for regional Queensland through CSG – stopping the rural drift of young people to coastal belts and cities for example – but an enormous amount of uncertainty remains.

“You sit in a large room in regional Queensland and people ask: ‘where we are going to be in five or 20 years?’ That question has to be answered.”

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