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The challenge

Obtaining and maintaining social licence to operate for the gas industry

Stakeholders' expressed concerns regarding access tracks used by the gas companies to move the staff and equipment required for the exploration for and development of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) resources in the Surat Basin of the Western Downs region.

Irrigation area on the Gilbert River, North Queensland

Origin Energy was concerned about the amount of money their access tracks were costing to maintain. Communities were concerned about the potential for the access tracks to damage the lands they run across. Origin Energy shared these concerns as minimising any degradation of farmland they are crossing helps to maintain good relations with farmers whose land they are traversing and the community. Other CSIRO GISERA research has demonstrated that improved relationships with landholders is central to obtaining and maintaining the gas industry's social licence to operate.

Our response

The Making Tracks and Telling the Story projects

The Making Tracks project was conducted to examine the impact of tracks on farmland, and Telling the Story was undertaken to provide information to members of local communities, including the research into the effects of CSG access tracks development on agricultural soil undertaken in Making Tracks. The ultimate aim of the research was to provide knowledge and information to stakeholders about how best to minimise any potential disruption to agricultural land by CSG exploration and development.

The Making Tracks project drew on the mapping, remote sensing and mathematical modelling expertise of CSIRO researchers in WA (who are now part of Data 61). Prior research had developed the methodology to produce a 3D model of any landscape from very high-resolution aerial photography. This project developed models at 20cm resolution. The 3D models have been validated through on-the-ground surveys which showed accuracy in ground elevation predictions approaching that which an on-the-ground surveyor could obtain (approx. 5cm). Other participants in the research were scientists from the CSIRO Agriculture and Food Business Unit and the CSIRO Land and Water Business Unit.

The results

Improved environmental outcomes

High resolution aerial photographs were used to create a 3D model of the Darling Downs landscape. Researchers used the 3D model to study how 'virtual' water would flow across that landscape. Information on possible existing or emerging erosion damage was presented to stakeholders and the project provided knowledge about the impacts of CSG access tracks in affected communities and how to reduce those impacts.

Potential benefits include:

  • Less erosion, which should help maintain the efficiency of agricultural land.
  • Improved environmental outcomes through reduced sediment flows.
  • Social benefits associated with better understanding and levels of trust between the industry and the community. 
  • Better placement of CSG access tracks to help reduce the need for track maintenance.

ACIL Allen has estimated that if CSIRO’s land mapping methodology was applied by Santos at their proposed Narrabri CSG project it could potentially provide a saving in access track maintenance costs of around $350,000 per year.


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