RESEARCH OR PAID EMPLOYMENT ?

Blueprint for a CSG collision

Robert Gottliebsen

Published 10:32 AM, 3 Nov 2011 Last update 10:00 AM, 3 Nov 2011

The University of Queensland has walked into a minefield as it seeks to be a world leader in coal seam gas research.

The coal seam gas debate is red hot, with growing community pressure to halt developments until more research is undertaken. The companies have already invested billions and have long-term contracts.

Suspension of development for any extended period would be a financial disaster. However, talk-back radio ratings leader Alan Jones is firing an incredible broadside at the industry and independent Tony Windsor is now making his support of the mining tax subject to a suspension of coal seam gas mining until more research is done.

In a community relations sense the industry has been appallingly badly managed, with British Gas, Shell/Arrow and others not understanding what is required in Queensland. And most of the operators in New South Wales had no idea of the community powder keg they were unleashing.

The industry’s opponents want more research on the effect on water and farmland before the dramatic escalation in coal seam gas mining takes place.

So what started as a long-term initiative by the University of Queensland to be funded by the industry and governments is now under pressure to deliver a short-term outcome to enable development to continue.

The university’s Sustainable Minerals Institute Director, Chris Moran, says the university will “undertake critical research that will drive sustainable practice in this emerging industry, and bring the scientific rigor and data that have been lacking to date to the social, environmental and technical challenges the industry faces”.

Tony Windsor has seized on the long-term research initiative and said coal seam gas mining companies should pause while the studies are conducted. He wants a cessation from the industry “in a voluntary sense to just breathe while we get these processes right.”

Windsor warns of “fairly dire” consequences for the industry and political players if they ignore community concerns and unrest.

My guess is that the research work that has been done to date can be harnessed by the university to enable the industry to proceed, but if company money is used for this work then the industry opponents will bag the research.

The short-term research, as distinct from long-term ongoing best practice research, will have to be funded by governments if it is to have impact.

What will probably save the industry is that it has the support of Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and his opposition counterpart Ian Macfarlane.

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