Fraccing Adelaide

Australia's beleagured onshore gas industry gathered in Adelaide this week to hear words of encouragement from government and to be reminded of how important their industry is to the nation's energy future.

But delegates to the Onshore Gas Conference held by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) were also reminded by some speakers that they would have to work harder to retain their "social licence" to operate.

South Australia's Premier Jay Weatherill told the delegates that the discovery of unconventional gas in South Australia was "the biggest single thing that has been happening for the South Australian economy".

"We believe this industry is critical to our future prosperity."

He paid tribute to his Resources Minister, Tom Koutsantonis, as "an incredibly powerful advocate for this sector."

He announced that two new blocks, totalling4,000 sq km, would be open for exploration in the Cooper Basin. Applications would close at the end of May next year and winning bidders notified in July.

The conference comes less than a week after the new federal industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, whose brief includes resources and energy, declared that he wanted to see drilling rigs working on coal seam gas in New South Wales before Christmas.

He warned that NSW is facing scarcity and soaring prices for gas and that manufacturing jobs in the cities will be lost unless new supplies of natural gas can be brought on stream before the end of 2016.

Opposition to fracking has effectively stalled coal seam gas exploration in New South Wales.

He said that the federal government would like to bring in standard rules across all the states for coal seam gas approvals.

Although he also said he only wanted drilling rigs to go where the farmers wanted them, where the geology was safe and water and the environment would be safe, his speech has been seen by the Greens, the Lock the Gate movement and other environmental groups as a direct challenge.

John Wishart, convenor of the anti-fraccing group Clean Air and Water South Australia, commented afterwards: “The Minister's announcement clearly shows that the he will not be sticking to his earlier commitment given to farmers that unconventional gas production would not occur where landholders strongly objected.

“I think this will make invasive coal and gas projects in SA morelikely despite environmental concerns.”

There is little doubt that the political climate has shifted significantly in favour of the industry.

APPEA has already welcomed Macfarlane’s confirmation as the responsible minister in the new government.

In a statement last month, APPEA Chief Executive David Byers said: “Mr Macfarlane has a deep understanding of Australia’s oil and gas industry, its importance to the nation’s economy, and its increasing importance upon the international energy stage.”

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Adelaide Independent Reporter 2013