Tap our rich CSG reserves
Coal-seam gas is developing as a bonanza for Australia and specifically for Queensland. Notwithstanding considerable pressure from anti-development forces, the Queensland election campaign saw both main parties remain committed to its ongoing development.
In global terms, shale and coal-seam gas, both of which Australia has in abundance, are set to repeat the Houdini escape trick like coal and oil, which emerged to leapfrog dwindling energy sources of wood and whale oil. Conventional sources of gas, which supplies one-quarter of the world's energy, had been getting scarcer. Prices had risen from the $2 a gigajoule common in Australia to $10 in international markets. But new fracking technology has come to the rescue supplementing conventional deposits with shale gas and CSG and bringing global prices back down to $2 a gigajoule.
Natural gas from conventional wells, especially off the North West Shelf, has become one of the mainstays of Australia's mineral wealth. But our CSG and shale gas reserves are actually greater than those of conventional natural gas.
CSG reserves are located in Queensland and NSW, and in Queensland this source now dominates the state's gas supply. Output has grown from virtually nothing 10 years ago to a level comparable to the Bass Strait's gas production.
Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman have both been supportive of the industry. By contrast, the NSW government has allowed exploration and production to be tied down by the environmental and NIMBY oppositions that seem to be endemic with any new form of wealth, and current production is minuscule. Local opposition groups portray CSG as posing risks to farmland and water supplies. The proximity of the gas supplies to hobby farms and the absence of landowners' rights to sub-service minerals have fuelled these pressures. NSW is only now making cautious moves, prodded by Martin Ferguson in Canberra, to allow its own immense deposits to be brought onstream.
In Queensland the Greens and Bob Katter's Australian Party have sought to foment hostility to CSG development. CSG development, alongside hostility to supermarkets and free trade, differentiate Katter's rural socialism from the Liberal National Party. Aware of their vulnerability to splinter groups promoting populist causes, the Nationals in Canberra tried to neutralise Katter's appeal by calling for a new regulatory framework and for landowners to get a share of the royalties. Katter's Australian Party's 12 per cent of Saturday's vote indicates this was not a total success.
The overwhelming majority Newman gained may provide a four-year window within which the industry can demonstrate its claims to be safe, unintrusive and non-polluting. But massive majorities can make it difficult for leaders to maintain cohesion. And it would be regrettable if a depleted Labor rejected its former support for CSG and combined with Katter's Australian Party and the Greens to oppose developments.