In Climate Spectator yesterday, Barbara Sharp offered some thoughts about the polarisation of the coal seam gas debate.

It’s worth reading her entire piece, but I take the gist of it to be a call for “Australia … to negotiate a mutually acceptable way out of the CSG mess.”

In our research on the Western Downs last week we found some stakeholders who would agree with that call. It wasn’t too dissimilar to the views of mayor Ray Brown and Ian Hayllor of the Basin Sustainability Alliance.

(Video interviews with these two folks are in the pipeline.)

Sharp argues that communication and data are flashpoints for the debate. She is right about that.

More than one of our interviewees suggested that the science was hotly contested, and it’s been a recurrent theme of our research articles that baseline data for assessment of risk and impacts is missing or inadequate. As Kim Jameson said, collecting such data after wells are already in place is worthy, but obviously insufficient. Moves to fund adequately such scientific research, as I reported yesterday, are now proceeding with the establishment of the federal government’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee. But, again, the horse has already bolted.

Similarly, we can confirm from our interviews and conversations that many feel communication and consultation has been piecemeal and often lacking. That may also be something Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser alluded to in his recent remarks.

Stone writes:

But still, the data will remain the tail wagging the dog. The opportunity for joint fact-finding, for agreement on the information needed for informed decisions is sitting waiting for leadership.

It is waiting for both sides to climb out of the trenches and come together around a table to find a way forward.

There are at least a couple of problematic assumptions in this apparently attractive vision.

Peter Fray

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