The Gasfields Commission Act 2013 (Qld) comes into effect on 1 July 2013, providing the Gasfields Commission (Commission) with official powers to manage and improve the coexistence of landowners, regional communities and the onshore gas industry in Queensland.
The Commission’s powers extend to those ‘necessary or convenient’ to perform its statutory functions, which include advising the government, reviewing the efficacy of gas regulations, convening meetings of stakeholders and publishing educational materials. Significantly, the Commission has the power to obtain information and documents from gas operators, including conduct and compensation agreements (CCAs).
Although there were initial concerns from the gas industry regarding the confidentiality implications for their CCAs, these have been largely alleviated by the restriction on the Commission publishing information that could identify the entities concerned.
The establishment of the Commission appears to provide two distinct benefits to gas industry participants.
The first involves increasing certainty surrounding land access negotiations. Plans by the government to compile and make publicly available an indicative, de-identified list of CCAs combined with the Commission’s power to convene meetings between gas industry participants, landholders and regional communities to resolve issues, will go a long way to promote transparency and cooperative engagement of relevant stakeholders. This is likely to translate to more realistic expectations from landholders and more timely outcomes for CCA negotiations.
A second benefit is the opportunity for industry participants to de-stigmatise their operations through the provision of scientific information and details of market conditions to the Commission, and to share their views on the commercial and legislative barriers to success of gas projects. This in turn increases the level of community understanding, and affords the gas industry another conduit to continue steering legislative and policy direction in the longer term.
Speaking at the recent APPEA conference in Brisbane, Commission Chairman John Cotter urged the gas industry to engage more meaningfully with the broader community. The importance of this ‘social licence to operate’ was echoed throughout the conference, acknowledged by the major industry participants as being critical to the future success of gas projects in Queensland.
While the future impact of the Commission on the Queensland gas industry remains to be seen, it is clear that onshore gas operators have plenty to gain by proactively working with the Commission to promote cooperation with relevant stakeholders, and to shape future gas policy and legislation in this State.