Australia’s media, already saturated with gas and mining company propaganda, are about to be bombarded with more “good news” about coal seam gas (CSG).
A campaign called “We want CSG” was launched on September 4. It includes television, radio, newspaper and online advertisements.
It is backed by some of Australia’s largest energy companies, including AGL, Santos, and Origin Energy, under the banner of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA).
The campaign seems to be a desperate attempt to counter the success of the community campaign against CSG, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales.
The campaign claims to focus on “the investment, jobs, environmental benefits, and enormous opportunities that CSG generates”.
APPEA CEO Rick Wilkinson defended the campaign, saying the industry wants to counter large amounts of disinformation and alarmist reporting.
He said: “This campaign is built on facts and based on the voices of the many Australians, small businesses, and local communities who want the benefits associated with a thriving gas industry.”
He acknowledged the widespread concern farming and environmental groups have voiced about CSG mining, but said the campaign gives supportive locals a voice.
He said activist groups and other critics have ignored the science the industry is based on.
NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham responded to the campaign, saying he doesn’t agree the science is settled on managing the risks of CSG.
“The gas industry seems to think it can spend millions on a slick advertising campaign to paper over the legitimate concerns of farmers and communities about the impacts of CSG on water, agricultural land and the environment,” he told the ABC on September 6.
Buckingham took aim at the federal government for allowing what he says is a compromised CSIRO to take the lead on environmental guidelines.
“I’m very concerned that you’ve got the CSIRO entering into research that’s funded by [gas company] Australian Pacific LNG.
“I think the research should be fully government-funded, so that would remove the perception they could be persuaded one way or the other.”
Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters has threatened to report any false claims made in the campaign to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
“The fact is it’s not proven that CSG can coexist with agriculture, because we don’t know enough about long-term impacts on connections between underground aquifers,” she said on September 5.
Lock the Gate Alliance president Drew Hutton told AAP that green groups were also working on a TV commercial to counteract the gas companies.
Called “Bigtos CSG”, it is a parody of a Santos advertisement in which a farmer unquestioningly allows CSG mining on his property. But unlike the parody, Santos shows none of the actual impacts of mining.
One recent Galaxy survey found 68% of Australians want CSG operations halted until the long-term health and environmental impacts were known.
Rabobank’s Peter Knoblanche said on September 5 a nationwide survey by the bank showed 52% of farmers thought coal seam gas exploration and extraction was a threat to agriculture, even if it wasn't happening in their region.
In NSW, Rabobank said 62% were worried. In Queensland, the figure was 71%.
Not all miners are on board with CSG. Coalmining magnate Clive Palmer told the ABC on August 27: “Coal seam gas technology currently used in Australia is lethal and will kill Australians, poison our water table and destroy the land.”
However, Palmer insisted: “I don’t think we have anything to worry about coalmining itself”, suggesting his concerns lie in undermining a potential competitor rather than the interests of the community.
Some of the key arguments of the “We want CSG” campaign include:
• Using more gas for energy can help reduce global CO2 emissions. But anti-CSG campaigners say that if all emissions from CSG are included —from production to end use — then its emissions are similar, if not higher, than burning coal.
• Regional communities are thriving thanks to the CSG industry. But the danger CSG poses to farm land and aquifers — as well as the fact that the industry has split regional communities — belies the accuracy of that claim.
• CSG is the most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable sources of power are not taken into account at all.
• The CSG industry can and does co-exist with other industries. Farmers in NSW and Queensland deeply dispute this.
• The CSG industry will help fund the new services and infrastructure needed throughout NSW and Queensland in the decades ahead. It makes no sense to risk poisoning water tables and damaging the health of communities to help pay for infrastructure down the track.
In any case, Australia’s mining companies (and, indeed, big business in general) hardly pay their fair share of tax.
The Australia Institute released a survey on September 8 that asked Australians for their perceptions of mining’s impact on the economy.
The survey said: “Australians believe that the mining sector: employs nine times more workers than it actually does; accounts for three times as much economic activity as it actually does; and is 30% more Australian-owned than it actually is.”
The Institute’s Executive Director Richard Denniss said the mining industry’s expensive advertising campaigns clearly had an impact on people’s perceptions.
“The mining industry likes to portray itself as a big employer, a big taxpayer and a big money maker for Australian shareholders. Yet the reality just doesn't match the rhetoric,” Denniss said.
Stop CSG Illawarra spokesperson Jess Moore told GLW she was confident the “We want CSG” campaign would not sway the public. “This is clearly industry-funded propaganda that doesn’t take up the evidence-based concerns about CSG,” she said.