The rapid pace of construction and development in central and south-east Queensland brought with it rapid change that at times threatened to overwhelm previously quiet agricultural communities.
Development occurred so quickly and on such a broad scale that communities and government were concerned potential impacts on the environment, communities, resources such as water, and established industries such as agriculture were neither understood nor addressed.
With debate over CSG becoming increasingly polarised, the industry recognised that a social licence to operate went to the very heart of sustainable co-existence with landholders and community groups alike.
And central to this was the related issues of trust and access to independent information about issues of concern to landholders and local communities.
Independent information on CSG
CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) was established in 2011 to meet this urgent need for independent, peer-reviewed and publicly available research into the social and environmental impacts of Queensland’s CSG industry.
Drawing on a combination of funding from CSIRO, industry, and governments, over the past decade GISERA has used an innovative governance model to conduct more than 70 research projects costing over $55 million and involving hundreds of CSIRO scientists and research specialists.
This research focussed a scientific spotlight on the impacts of onshore gas development in seven key areas of interest to local communities: surface and groundwater; agricultural land management; greenhouse gases and air quality; social and economic issues; health impacts; terrestrial biodiversity; and the marine environment.
GISERA Director and Research Director of CSIRO Energy Resources, Dr Damian Barrett, said the creation of GISERA reflected a desire by community, industry and government to apply CSIRO’s independent scientific rigour to investigate social and environmental issues of interest to community members.
“The key to GISERA’s success is its unique governance model,” Dr Barrett said.
“It was critically important from the outset to develop an alliance agreement and structure which gave control of decision-making processes to community and independent representatives.”
“To their credit, our partner companies understand and fully support the important majority role that independent and community members play in deciding research focus areas and funding approval decisions,” said Barrett.
“All our research is carried out by CSIRO, Australia’s leading science agency, subject to peer review and made publicly available on the GISERA website.”
GISERA research across Australia
From its original Queensland focus, GISERA is now a national organisation, with research projects underway in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
GISERA’s industry partners comprise Australia Pacific LNG, QGC, Santos, and Origin Energy. The Australian Government's Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and the governments of New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are all funding contributors.
GISERA’s governance model includes clear safeguards in the GISERA partner agreement around CSIRO’s ability to publish independent peer reviewed scientific research, and research advisory committees (RACs) that determine where project funds are spent and are majority controlled by independent and community members.
The RACs comprise representatives of local community groups, CSIRO, and industry parties operating in the region, and can have subject specialists appointed to ensure the research agenda delivers public good research and meets the expectations of a wide range of stakeholders.
Membership of each RAC is weighted in favour of community representatives, with ratio limits set on the number of industry and CSIRO representatives. This ensures that RAC decisions and research focus address community priorities.
In addition to the State and Territory RACs, a National Research Advisory Committee is being established to consider projects of national interest that stretch across states and territories.
All GISERA research results are made publicly available and promoted to relevant stakeholder groups.
An excellent example of the effectiveness of this approach is studies completed in Queensland which responded to community, government and industry concern about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on air, water and soil.
The Queensland RAC determined this should be a research priority, and industry fully supported the research proposals with a GISERA industry partner (Origin) providing CSIRO researchers with unrestricted access to hydraulic fracturing operations, thus ensuring highly accurate data.
The success of GISERA’s governance approach is reflected in the Australian Government Productivity Commission Resources Sector Regulation report (draft, March 2020), which said GISERA has made a “positive contribution by providing information and research that is conducted independently from the regulators and proponents of resources projects.”