QLD reforms welcomed

A LANDMARK review of Queensland’s gas sector “from wellhead to stovetop” will delve into the contentious topic of landholder access to help free up 93% of the commercial gas within Australia’s east coast market.
QLD reforms welcomed QLD reforms welcomed QLD reforms welcomed QLD reforms welcomed QLD reforms welcomed

Queensland Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham (left).

Alex Paull

On Sunday, Queensland’s Natural Resources Minister, Dr Anthony Lynham, released the 38-page Queensland gas supply and demand action plan discussion paper, which outlined 29 reforms that focus on supply and the gas sector’s social license, in order to spark debate.

The consultation will help develop the final gas action plan that will outline a strategic approach to the gas sector, now expected to be completed in mid-2017.

Land access laws have come under the spotlight recently as Queensland legislation says landholders can’t deny gas companies access to their properties because subsurface resources belong to the state.

However, the laws do ensure that landholders are compensated for activities on their land and that resources companies minimise the impact on existing land and business operations.

And new water laws passed during the week will also help take the pressure off landholders dealing with resources companies over underground water issues, according to prominent Queensland farming body AgForce.

AgForce water spokesman Kim Bremner said the new environmental laws were a positive step towards improved groundwater management, but more work still needed to be done to provide more certainty about water allocation processes into the future.

“Farmers want secure and reliable access to their share of available water, and the opportunity for further sustainable development,” he said.

“AgForce’s view is that impacts on underground water supplies by resource companies should be avoided in the first instance, and that any unavoidable impacts are managed or ‘made good’.

The Gas Action Plan reform recommendations thus far address this contentious policy, including a proactive approach to community engagement and education undertaken prior to any land release by government.

It also recommends a performance and compliance reporting system to improve the transparency of gas companies' reporting about social and environmental performance; plus a centralised management system for community enquiries and complaints.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has welcomed what it believes are sorely-needed reforms initiated to help struggling gas explorers.

APPEA CEO Dr Malcolm Roberts said that while Queensland was well placed to supply gas to other east coast states that have “bungled the opportunity to develop their own industry”, serious issues remained.

He said it was heartening to see the government accept the need to reduce the regulatory costs of doing business in Queensland, especially considering industry had already sharply cut its own operating costs to stay competitive in a depressed oil and gas market.

“The problem is acute for the smaller explorers that play a vital role in finding and developing new gas reserves.  They battle to attract investment capital and can face high upfront regulatory costs,” Dr Roberts said.  

“For example, 12 Commonwealth and state agencies are involved in approving exploration projects. Overlapping and inconsistent regulation adds to costs, delays approvals and discourages investment.

“Reforms in this area will give industry the confidence boost it needs to turn exploration into production.”

He said the Queensland government’s rejection of domestic gas reservation was welcome recognition that “regulatory interventions don’t deliver reliable supply or put downward pressure on prices”.  

Dr Lynham said the aim was to deliver an overarching strategy to maximise domestic and industrial supply at affordable prices.

It is hoped the plan will give regional areas greater certainty for planning by landholders and councils; better information about where and when gas exploration and production are planned; more information on gas sector performance; ongoing employment opportunities in gas exploration and production; and greater economic diversity underpinning local development.

Submissions close on December 19.

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