The ABC’s new Coal Seam Gas: By the Numbers website has rightly drawn fierce criticism from the industry since its launch.
Among protestors the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has been the loudest, labelling the broadcaster’s coverage embarrassing, biased, and misleading.
For the most part the APPEA has been right; the ABC made some pretty glaring errors on its site.
But when Australian Mining rang up the APPEA to ask how they knew the ABC was wrong and they were right the response we got was a little unexpected.
The APPEA said they didn’t have their own figures to quote from, but knew the ABC had got it wrong because other gas companies had told them so.
For a dispute over data the APPEA itself has no record of, the criticisms were quite severe.
But the APPEA aren’t the only ones lacking a detailed record of Australian CSG.
No gas company, industry body, and amazingly, no Government, has a complete picture of the industry.
When companies apply to state governments for CSG they apply for broad permits covering all types of naturally occurring petroleum.
Records don’t identify whether a well or exploration zone specifically covers oil, conventional gas, coal seam gas, or shale gas.
The result is that it’s incredibly difficult to form a detailed picture of CSG in Australia, and inevitable that anyone attempting to do so to will make mistakes.
Such a climate breeds misinformation and a wide divergence of “reliable” data.
Take Queensland mining minister Stirling Hinchcliffe’s claim on the reliability of CSG wells in Queensland.
“A recent state-wide audit of CSG well heads showed 98% had no reportable leak and met strict safety standards.”
And compare it to Lock the Gate’s claim on leaky wells.
“Over 50% of wells tested in Queensland leak methane.”
Both statements reference an official source, but deliver completely different conclusions.
Such divergent “facts” are the product of regulation, study, and record keeping that is buried deep in bureaucracy and difficult to understand.
While the APPEA has attempted to address the problem by producing its own fact sheets more serious and systemic change is needed.
What’s required aren’t more information sheets, but better regulation so access to clear and current information is freely available and easy to understand.
Only then will reliable CSG information be delivered consistently.
And only then will the industry expand without groups like Lock the Gate capitalising on the information shortage.
Andrew Duffy is a journalist with Australian Mining.