Community Consultation: From Learning to Understanding and Accepting

Community consultation and engagement is a vital component for any operator seeking an approval to conduct activities relating to oil and gas exploration and development.

In fact, it’s not only important part of the journey, but is required by the Regulator.

The NSW Department of Industry, Resources and Energy Guideline for community consultation requirements for exploration outline the expectations for community consultation, ensuring an:

“Open and honest dialogue to facilitate a sound working relationship between the title holder, landholders and community with all participants acting in a spirit of co-operation and good faith.”

Communities may, at varying times and to varying degrees, be impacted by exploration and production activities which take place in their local region and its important that they understand any potential impacts and what benefits either individuals or communities will reap as a result.

Here’s what the experts have noted about the impact on communities in Queensland who are further along the development life cycle than those in New South Wales, Narrabri region:

“Studies have shown that CSG development has led to the reversing of rural decline in CSG regions, including through increases in female employment and higher youth education levels.” – Office of the Chief Economist, Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

“Headline economic impacts of CSG development in Queensland to date are found to be net positive, and are attributable to increases in employment, income, output, consumption and government revenue. These changes are broadly consistent with changes experienced as a result of a typical natural resource development.” – Office of the Chief Economist, Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

“Attitudes towards CSG development showed the same pattern over the time period in the Western Downs region, with 9% rejecting development, 10% embracing development, and 81% either tolerating, accepting or approving of it.” – CSIRO

What does the data tell us?

Economic benefits are one (important) aspect of project development – Queensland’s economy, for example, benefits enormously from its oil and gas industry. In fact, an estimated 39,175 direct and indirect full time jobs were supported by the state’s oil and gas industry in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Check out our fact sheet for more specific insights into how Queensland has benefitted from oil and gas.

A recent study by CSIRO has taught us more about the impact natural gas development can have on community wellbeing.

The multi-year survey report, ‘Trends in community wellbeing and local attitudes to coal seam gas development, 2014, 2016, 2018′ surveyed residents in the Western Downs and eastern Maranoa regions in Queensland and documents changes and trends in community wellbeing, resilience and local attitudes to CSG development over time and across different industry phases.

Overall, the report found there is a high level of acceptance, tolerance and approval of onshore gas development – and community wellbeing remains robust.

In 2018, attitudes towards development highlighted that 81% of people tolerated, accepted, or approved.

An important factor when assessing an individual’s level of acceptance of the onshore gas industry related to their exposure to and understanding of it, with the report noting that:

“People with previous experience with the industry, either through family and friends working in the industry, or they themselves working in the sector, had higher confidence in their knowledge about water impacts, well integrity and the local industry than people who didn’t have this type of connection. They also indicated lower levels of concern about impacts on air, water, and health, as well as a lesser need for more information.”

We covered the report in greater detail on our blog but in essence, greater engagement, knowledge sharing and education results in greater understanding and therefore acceptance of resource development. Which is why companies like Santos, which are seeking to develop the Narrabri Gas Project, have invested time and resources to educating and consulting the community.

At a glance they have:

  • Had 4,000+ visitors to Santos’ shopfronts in Narrabri and Gunnedah
  • Consulted with 3,000+ stakeholders
  • Facilitated 300+ site visits for community groups
  • Participated in more than 100 community events
  • Developed a project website and Facebook page
  • Attended monthly meetings of the Community Consultation Committee, a body comprising representatives of key local stakeholder, government and industry groups

All of this is to help educate the region about their project and reinforces what the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer concluded about CSG development in the state:

“The independent petroleum engineering, geological and geophysical experts advising the Review consider that such technologies (including fracture stimulation and horizontal drilling technologies), with appropriate safeguards, are suitable for use in many parts of the sedimentary basins in NSW…”

“The risks associated with CSG exploration and production can be managed.”

The bottom line: Community consultation and engagement is a vital component of any new development, forming an important component of the project life cycle.

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