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Nov 11, 2011

Confused Nationals go a short distance down the right road.

Image; National Party leader, Warren Truss.

Warren Truss of the National Party has announced the imminent release of a discussion paper on Coal seam gas, which will be based on five ‘core principles’ that the party has adopted. Two of these are reasonable, one a maybe, and the other two are just plain semantic silliness. They are:

(1) No coal-seam gas development can be granted if it damages aquifers or water quality.

(2) Coal-seam gas development must not compromise prime agricultural land. We must protect our ability to deliver food security for our nation and a hungrier world, for generations to come.

(3) Coal-seam gas development should not occur close to residential areas. Those who have a reasonable expectation of the quiet amenity of their home should be able to enjoy it.

(4) Payments to landowners should not be limited to compensation, they deserve a proper return on the development of resources that occur on their land; and:

(5) The regions that deliver much of the wealth from coal-seam gas deserve a fair share of the revenues to be reinvested in their communities.
Numbers One and Four are useful; aquifers are a critical asset to landholders and the community as a whole, and every effort should be made to ensure that the practices of drilling companies safeguard water quality. No compensation could ever make good the loss of water supplies.

Principle Four is the best thought out of the lot. If landholders stand to gain from another enterprise on their properties, they are likely to have an entirely different attitude towards exploitation of this resource. If CSG is available then there is coal, the extraction of which would be terminally invasive as far as the land was concerned. CSG extracts huge energy reserves with minimal disturbance. A pittance in compensation for damage done is nonsense.

As far as the ‘not compromising prime agricultural land’ is concerned, surely this is something for the landholder to assess. If the owner of the property was likely to gain from CSG development as per principle Four, it is simply an exercise in economic judgment as to whether to allow exploitation of this resource, or keep the whole property clear.

The idea of government deciding what is to happen on any property is nanny state writ large, and is the reason why the current standoff exists. The government has decided that CSG is a vital industry and in the national interest and those ‘yobbo farmers’ have no right to stand in the way of development. As result, CSG companies have the right to ignore landholder’s opinions and practices.

From personal experience, drilling around and even in urban areas is not a problem if consideration is given to the residents. If noise is kept to a minimum and restrictions on the hours worked are observed, there is normally no problem. A willingness to consider residents generally gives good results. It is silly to simply blanket ban the activity.

Principle five, would is really redundant if principle four was adopted. Rather than the centralized government principle of taking the royalties and running them through a bureaucracy and handing a bit back to the area they came from, leaving a significant proportion of them in the hands of property owners, would achieve the same result only a lot cheaper.

The Nationals have made a few faltering steps toward a reasonable policy, but have to get over the idea that government knows best for everyone, if they want to make a real difference.

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