With rampant speculation and accusations flying left and right, there is a burning question that needs to be answered.
How does the industry sell CSG to the masses?
The first to take up the challenge was public relations company Cannings Purple, which has run successful campaigns for a number of resource-based companies.
Chairman Deidre Willmott and managing director Warrick Hazeldine said the best campaign was one that gave power back to the people.
Hazeldine said it was important to know who you needed to win over in any argument.
“We liken stakeholder engagement to layers of an onion and it’s certainly that you start at the middle and work out,” he said.
“If we take that onion to represent 100%, we’re probably never going to win that 10% of people [whose] views have been quite extreme but there is maybe 80% that do turn on their tap every morning, who do have a warm shower, they like when the water boils in the kettle, they like the fact they can turn the airconditioner and flick on their flat screen TV.
“These are the people that consume energy every day.”
When met with the idea of signing on the CSG industry as a client, Hazeldine said the campaign should focus on the power that people use every day.
“CSG: Power to the people.
“At the end of the day, this is all about people having a voice and I guess at all levels of the community.
“At the majority, the voice the people want to have is that they like having a hot shower every morning and they like turning on the lights.
“For many years, people have campaigned against coal as a dirty form of energy and now you’ve got this new form of gas and it needs to play a part of the mix.
“And I think that’s really important, that Power to the People campaign is something we feel the broader community would respect.
“This is all about the affordability of the domestic energy supply, not a case of having no supply or an oversupply, this is a case of an energy mix where gas is a part of that and it’s affordable.
“We walk on very dangerous ground when energy is just so expensive that no-one can afford to use it.”
The duo stressed that getting the truth out into the mainstream arena was one of the most important parts of the campaign.
Hazeldine said meaningful engagement with mainstream and industry media were effective, but there was much to be desired in terms of one-on-one consultation around a “coffee table”
“I take the view that you educate, not isolate so we’re never going to win these people over if we don’t sit down and have a conversation.
“So in terms of who to approach, it is very much multiple stakeholders, you’ve got to bring them all along for the ride.
“You’ve got to engage the community and do that very well in a meaningful way.”
A number of companies have successfully done this in the space where there working.
At the company’s operations in Roma and Gladstone, Santos has effectively engaged the audience and gained support from local communities and landowners.
Outside of the local communities, there are a lot of stakeholders removed from what is happening on the ground.
Willmott said these landholders were worth their weight in gold when trying to get the message across to the general public.
She also said there were a number of important facts that were not being successfully communicated in this debate.
“A majority of the eastern states gas supply is already coming from natural coal seam gas and also that Queensland land owners are demonstrating their support for the industry with some 3000 land access agreements having been signed with farmers.
“And then in addition to that [you have] the importance of the jobs and economic benefits in the local community supporting the CSG industry but also the downstream elements.
“I think opposition groups will raise concerns but the industry and the government will work together to make sure that any issues that are real are properly addressed and managed and that other issues are responded to with facts.
“Because we know that some of the arguments being raised are not actually correct and where there are other issues, they need to be managed.
“One of the issues is land clearing for roads and for access and that’s the case with any mining or resource project.”
On getting these messages out in the public debate, Hazeldine said companies needed to come out from behind the curtain and engage.
He warned that companies which did not engage in social media were going to have a difficult time going forward.
“I think it’s an area where a number of companies are clearly just under-resourced.
“A lot of the extreme groups that have views that are opposed to CSG are the type of people who are sitting on their couch at 9 o’clock on a Sunday night very much in a campaign style.
“Companies need to have the dedicated resources to at least put their voice into the argument.
“In some of the major incidents in the world, starting a social media conversation half-way through a major incident is too late.
“The community is just so aware of social and digital media and everyone’s got a voice.
“And equally to address that the corporates that are developing these projects need to have a voice.
“I’d go so far as saying companies that operate in this space [should] look at a dedicated social/digital media officer in the near future if they haven’t already got one.”
All you have to do is search “CSG” on Twitter to realise that the negative in the argument far outweighs positive coverage.
There is an overwhelming push to scrap fossil fuel to move to renewable energy.
A lovely sentiment − however as Hazeldine confirmed to keep up with the rampant demand for energy, there still needs to be a base load fuel.
“It seems the heart of some of the opponents of this sector to talk about renewable energy.
“Simple facts remain that gas is a base load power option and you need base load power as part of the energy mix.
“So you know it is a clean option.
“That just remains one of the facts that need to be communicated clearly.
“Renewables definitely have a role in the mix but I think CSG is equally important.”
In essence, messages like these need to be the ones that are told on a day-to-day basis.
Willmott said changing the tone of the discussion was one of the most important factors in garnering public support.
“There’s a really exciting, positive story to be told here and that is that we have these onshore gas reserves that are attracting offshore investment, creating thousands of jobs and creating a whole new opportunity for the Australian industry.
“You look at the story coming out of the United States of the economic recovery that is being driven by access to onshore gas and new supplies of energy and I think we’ll have the same opportunity here.
“We will have fantastic companies that will realise that opportunity and will move into areas that have been vacated in the short term and we will see a resurgence.
“We’ve got the resources [but] the community is looking for the leadership to say how do we make this part of our energy mix so we have the opportunity that other people in the world are getting because of these resources.”
An important part of this is dispelling the rumours.
Claims are made every day in the name of environmentalism, but when pressed, there are a lot of holes in these arguments.
Willmott said industry needed to engage in this debate and push for facts rather than rhetoric.
“Without evidence, how can you examine a claim and determine whether there are any new facts that need to be managed.
“So you can’t close your mind to these suggestions but the people who put them up have to provide evidence that needs to be looked at by people who understand how to interpret it.
“And the companies and their advisors need to be ready to talk openly about the facts from the best available sources.”
Hazeldine said the principles of engaging in this space were simple.
“I think the key to communicating with the mass audience is consistent and persistent.
“Making sure your messaging is clear, making sure you’re understood, and you tell that story well.
“Sometime companies over-complicate the message that needs to go out and it is an industry that does speak in a lot of jargon.
He said industry needed to make the broader community aware of the context and make sure it proved it was not sweeping problems to the side.
“This is built around trust.
“The view I take is that seeing is believing.”