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Under the microscope: New research body on coal seam gas

14 July 2011

A new research body may assist farmers and rural communities to understand the complex social and environmental challenges around the emerging coal seam gas (CSG) industry in Australia, says the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF).

GISERA, or the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance, is a jointly-funded partnership between CSIRO and the gas alliance Australian Pacific LNG, to provide research on the impact of CSG on five key areas: agriculture, water, biodiversity, marine, and communities.

“GISERA has the potential to provide information about the impact of CSG on farmers and affected communities,” said NFF Vice-President and Chair of the NFF Mining and Coal Seam Gas Taskforce, Duncan Fraser.

“This research must help fill the knowledge gap that currently exists for farmers and rural communities, and help the NFF and our member organisations, as well as the regulators, to help shape policy in this area.

“Of particular interest to us is the research to be undertaken around the impact of CSG on ground and surface water, land management and the socio-economic foundations of local communities. Initially this research will be Queensland-specific, however in future it is hoped that the program will be expanded to have national reach.

“While the research is designed to focus on that State’s gas industry, it is quite clear that there is a need for large-scale research across industries and geographic locations so that the issues of CSG can be considered in conjunction with other issues that are contributing to the land use debate, such as mining,” Mr Fraser said.

“We also exercise a note of caution about the partnership, due to the linkages between the gas industry and the CSIRO. We have been assured by the CSIRO that the research will be independent and we welcome the decision by CSIRO to publish all research, regardless of if it is positive or negative towards the gas industry.

“CSIRO has also stated that the research conducted by GISERA will be publicly available, and if the research finds that CSG is causing any risk to public health or the environment, this will be reported to the relevant authorities.

“While we acknowledge these assurances, we do have some concerns regarding the selection of particular research projects, their terms of reference, and the independence of the body’s findings, and we will be scrutinising these areas with interest.

“We will work closely with GISERA to ensure the agriculture sector is represented via a skills based appointment to the research advisory committee, and that farmers and local communities have a voice as key stakeholders,” Mr Fraser said.

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