“Let the Public Choose Coal Seam Gas”
Is the Coal Seam Gas industry the answer to economic growth in the East as Iron Ore is in the West? The answer could be yes, but CSG companies need to stop hiding behind their Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and actually get out there and truly engage with the community; whilst communities need to perhaps listen with a touch more optimism that CSG might actually be good for the economy and not the global environmental destroyer it is portrayed as.
But how can a single industry be depicted as highly regulated and packed with green tape that is stifling economic growth on one hand, whilst on the other hand environmentalist are hell bent that the industry will destroy the planet. These opinions on CSG are poles apart, so far apart that the public has no idea who to believe. I’m close to the industry and I sometimes don’t know who is telling the truth, but I think I know where the answer lies. Meaningful public engagement should be the answer, not the superficial engagement we see happening today. Engaging with the public is not about letting the public read your projects 1,000 plus pages of seven volumes of bamboozling EIS and allowing them to write to a few token comments. Nor is it visiting communities and telling them that you know what you’re doing and expecting the community to trust you; all along they knowing full well you are only out there to make a quick buck for shareholders.
The public today knows when they are being fed crap, so stop feeding them crap and allow them to be fully engaged in the process from day one. If a company tries to hide something, they will eventually be found out (just ask the News of the World), so don’t even try it. If you honestly believe your industry won’t damage the environment then let’s be totally open with everything you do. Let’s start with an EIS that is actually succinct and readable by the public, yes the public who will have to put up with the consequences if things go belly up, and then try backing up your EIS promises with some actual impartial environmental monitoring and let the public see the results in real time every day on the web, and while you’re at it, let the public appoint the independent environmental monitors to keep you guys honest. And to top it all off, why don’t you start small and prove your worth, live in front of the public, and then let the public say to you “now we trust you, please make us wealthy in the East”. It’s taken millions of years for nature to make that coal and the gas; I don’t think a couple more is going to make much difference if we want to get the industry right.
Adam Edwards is a geologist and a lawyer undertaking legal research into the CSG industry as part of his PhD degree at the Australian National University.