Whilst the Northern Territory report concluded with the message that “hydraulic fracturing could be managed effectively, subject to the creation of a robust regulatory regime,” the Tasmanian report cited 17 key issues to justify the announcement of a five-year moratorium on the process.
To have two opposing outcomes on the same topic released on the same day by different States and Territories is symptomatic of the broader public debate and epitomises how public conjecture is taking precedence over technical advice when it comes to political decision-making relatively to unconventional gas development.
New South Wales (NSW) is having its own internal struggle with coal seam gas (CSG) potential within the State. On one hand, the state appears broadly supportive of the industry through the 2013 CSG Review, whilst on the other hand (in more recent times), it has taken action to isolate, suspend and buy back CSG exploration tenements.
The level of uncertainty surrounding the CSG industry in NSW is complex. A stalemate exists, with any new proposed exploration development largely on hold within the State –predominantly due to regulatory indecision and uncertainty driving a lack of appetite for investors.
In the current climate, the future of the unconventional gas industry in Australia will not be driven by traditional values, such as the volume of the resource, cost of extraction or market demand, but instead by the rigors of the regulatory framework, the prevailing attitude of the Government and the public appetite for such a development.
Growing energy demand will necessitate a need for unconventional gas to continue to play its role in supplying Australian and international markets, but what is clear is that foreign or domestic demand alone will not be enough to gain maximum development from the industry.
There needs to be a willingness from those across the industry to reinforce the quality of its safeguards and confirm its scientific rationale in a broader forum and on a greater stage.