Australia’s land access new frontier

 John Cotter (on left) looking at a pipeline map on a pipeline easement with Brett DeHayr former Landcare national facilitator who assisted the Commission with the stocktake.

John Cotter (on left) looking at a pipeline map on a pipeline easement with Brett DeHayr former Landcare national facilitator who assisted the Commission with the stocktake.

Queensland GasFields Commissioner John Cotter has recently completed a stocktake of the construction of the three export pipelines in Queensland, and has gathered some key lessons about oil and gas land access best practice.

Mr Cotter and his team looked at 64 locations in Queensland that had been traversed by pipeline construction. It enabled them to gather a unique cross-section of the three different export pipelines covering properties of different sizes and geographical locations.

“The stocktake has been completed and we’ve come up with some key learnings. The rehabilitation of the three pipelines is still in progress but the stocktake has been very useful,” Mr Cotter said.

“It is also valuable to companies working on other pipeline projects so they can avoid some of the challenges faced in building a new pipeline. There are still some issues on the ground in Queensland, like rehabilitation, weeds and subsidence, and they need to be managed carefully within prevailing seasonal conditions.”

Biggest learning

Mr Cotter said that, unsurprisingly, the key learning that stood out from the stocktake was the importance of consistent and open communication, which he said is without doubt is the key to good negotiations and relationships.

“The number of landholders who don’t know when a particular issue is going to be dealt with, or who the person they are going to deal with during the construction or rehabilitation of a pipeline, really stood out as a big issue.

“To give an example, a pipeline was recently sold in Queensland. The level of knowledge and information provided to landholders about the new owner was quite poor, and that had significant implications for those landholders who had the pipeline traversing their properties.”

Mr Cotter said that the new owner is now working with the Gas Fields Commission to address the situation and to build relationships with landholders.

He said that if one looks at Texas in the US, Australia has a long way to go in building the sort of extensive pipeline network that exists there, and so the industry and the community needs to be in a good space to be able to do that.

“It’s also not just about communication, but it’s about relationship building and effective engagement. We live and breathe engagement, and in Queensland we have tried to create an environment to encourage that meaningful engagement to happen.

“I take great pride in saying that we have changed the culture, not only in the onshore gas industry but in the way a whole range of other subsidiaries and authorities interact with landholders to get the best win-win result.”

Mr Cotter said that the bottom line for the pipeline industry is that there are enormous economic gains to be had by getting communication and engagement with landholders right in the first place.

“[The Commission] analysed issues like fencing the pipeline easement, and the upfront cost of that compared with the remedial costs and the angst and time consumed in dealing with issues on unfenced easements.

“They are the sort of things that have given us some food for thought on how best to progress these pieces of infrastructure for the best benefit of everyone.

“The pipeline industry and broader resources industry is all about cost effectiveness, so there are some serious economic benefits from taking on board some of the learnings that we have gathered.”

Communicating learnings

Mr Cotter said that while pipeline industry owners have been briefed on the stocktake, he is keen to get out to more industry events and promote these learnings and the stocktake as a tool to guide best practice.

“[The stocktake] is now one of the tools that we have in the kit to better work with pipeline industry operators and assist them when it comes to land access, using local content and so on. It’s a pretty good tool to provide some data and fact-based evidence as to why they should do this or that.

“We have always been in the business of being factual, so undertaking and developing the stocktake has enabled us to speak with authority now.”

Mr Cotter said the pipeline stocktake also contains important information for other Australian states and industries.

“I am always open to working with other jurisdictions and happy to consider an opportunity in which I can help other landholders, regional communities and industries gain from what we have learnt in the last five years in Queensland.

“I think it would be selfish of us not to share these findings. I would not wish anyone to go through what some communities in Queensland have been through. So if the commission can help guide others through this process in a much more amicable and beneficial way, we would be happy to do that.”

To assist with applying these learnings on a national level, Mr Cotter says there are workers in Queensland who now have a high degree of skill in land access.

“There are skillsets in Queensland that are available to the rest of the Australian industry and they should take every opportunity to make use of it.”

On a final note, Mr Cotter said he believed that the pipeline industry is similar to the resources industry a few years ago: “It needs to look outside the square; it needs to look at who it can partner with to get better at communication and move forward in a better, more engaged manner.”

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