Releasing its latest report into Australia’s energy options today, CEDA chief executive Stephen Martin said the debate had become polarised and characterised by posturing.
"Currently we are seeing superficial arguments that pit farmers or environmentalists against miners. This is holding back the discussions that need to take place to progress this issue, which is why CEDA has undertaken this work," he said.
"With the exception of Queensland, development of unconventional energy in Australia is still in its infancy.
“However, the main unconventional gas source in Australia, coal seam gas, represents about one quarter of Australia's economically demonstrated resources of gas from all sources.”
While he said Queensland had become the leader in extracting unconventional resources, other states would invariably fall behind if all parties were not able to reach consensus on appropriate regulation.
"In recent weeks we have seen further protests in New South Wales and a moratorium being discussed in Victoria for coal seam gas extraction, which shows that the social licence to operate is in serious jeopardy,” Martin said.
"You can't expect zero risk with any industry but a balance can be struck between communities, protecting the environment and miners, provided the right checks and balances are put in place by government and are implemented quickly.”
But he also warned against unnecessary delays in drafting regulation, saying the delay could damage the industry’s social licence to operate.
CEDA says the main improvements can be made in land access arrangements and negotiation processes, calling these a major spark of conflict between farmers and the gas industry.
"CEDA is consequently calling for improvements in community consultation and land access negotiation processes and for industry to adopt OECD community consultation best practice standards," Martin said.
It wants to see Australia learn from the US experience, while also calling for more stringent requirements surrounding water management, including a requirement for industry to develop a risk management framework.
It is hoping such a framework will apply precautionary measures until more is known about the long-term impact of water extraction associated with unconventional extraction.
CEDA is also calling for greater consultation between state and federal governments to ensure uniformity on key aspects of regulation.
This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication EnergyNewsBulletin.net.