The perils of LNG golden handshakes

MAJOR oilers’ golden handshake deals to “drought-proof” the Queensland agriculture interacted with as part of their LNG behemoths comes with plenty of caveats, with new University of Queensland research revealing landholder concerns not dealt with by industry environmental impact statements.
The perils of LNG golden handshakes The perils of LNG golden handshakes The perils of LNG golden handshakes The perils of LNG golden handshakes The perils of LNG golden handshakes

Will Rifkin

Anthony Barich

Will Rifkin, social performance chair at the University of Queensland’s centre for CSG – which has been undertaking a detailed grass roots study of landholders – says research demonstrates a variety of concerns, but only some are made known through environmental impact statements.

While CSIRO has done similar work on the interaction between agriculture and CSG development, Rifkin’s UQ research over the past year has been more in-depth when it comes to the impact on farm businesses.

This effort is being followed up with a year-long monitoring project by UQ focusing on how farm productivity and profitability are impacted.

“Landholders have complained about the time required to negotiate land access agreements,” Rifkin told Energy News.

“They have also expressed concern about occupational safety, with an unfamiliar industrial operation now occurring on their land.

“They cite a need for increased vigilance about weeds, whose seeds can be carried onto a property by resource company vehicles accessing well sites – a risk that is addressed by the industry via vehicle wash-down protocols and other measures.”

Rifkin said run-off patterns could change as access roads and pipeline rights of way were put in place, though environmental approvals address this factor as well.

“Parts of fields may need to be planted, maintained and harvested in more labour intensive ways as farm machinery must deviate from defined paths to avoid well pads,” Rifkin said.

“Further, amenity can be lost as the countryside is being perceived as less peaceful and uncluttered.

“There is also uncertainty among landholders about the quantity and quality of groundwater available, given the industry’s extraction of water from deep aquifers.

“This concern is despite industry and government modelling of water extraction rates and forecasts for water levels in bores.”

He said the landholders that his research team interviewed explained that “co-existence” with resource companies required a sense of equality, candour, mutual respect and integrity.

“Research has found, unsurprisingly, that such a trusting relationship – though an aspiration among industry peak bodies – can be hard to implement in daily practice by large organisations that are subcontracting with a range of different companies for much of the construction,” Rifkin said.

The CSG industry descended on Queensland with promises to help mitigate the impacts on the world’s driest inhabited continent, as part of the development of onshore resources, with multinational joint ventures providing agricultural businesses with what some in the industry tout as “drought proofing”

These operations bring groundwater to the surface to enable the release of the natural gas.

Rifkin noted, however, that the industry’s “drought proofing” was not solely in the form of the water, much of which needed to be desalinated or treated.

“Rather, it can be in the form of payment for access to a farmer’s land by the gas companies, through opportunities for off-farm employment and income and by the construction or improvement roads or other infrastructure,” he said.

“The access payments become a steady source of revenue during dry years, from the time that a ‘conduct and compensation agreement’ is implemented until the wells (or other industry infrastructure – for example, pipelines, compression stations, water treatment plants) are decommissioned 10, 20 or 30 years later.”

Rifkin says 5000 of these conduct and compensation agreements are a result of Queensland’s laws regarding land access.

“One can conclude that there is both peril and promise in sharing the landscape between landholders and resource companies,” he said.

“The hope is that further research into the dimensions and practices of ‘co-existence’ can define ways forward that are attractive to landholders in the long term.

“That can enable the additional income stream that they derive by enabling access to an agricultural property to help compensate for economic uncertainties that they face due to a changing climate.”