Objectives

What benefits and burdens are being faced by the communities of Queensland, Australia's Surat Basin from AUD 60 billion in onshore gas development? This paper discusses the extent to which expectations of benefits and burdens were met or not met and how actual effects were distributed within and between the affected communities. Providing local benefits and mitigating potential damage to community wellbeing are critical to the social license to operate for the onshore gas industry.

Methods

Findings were derived from assessment of priority indicators agreed on by representatives of the community, industry, and government. These indicators track population, income, employment, housing costs, and crime rates as well as rainfall and petrol prices from 2001 to the present. These data were combined with insights from interviews to yield a ‘systems view' of the social and economic changes at the town level. This combination of aggregated data and local input enabled ‘ground truthing' of the findings.

Results

The benefits and burdens of CSG development are not evenly distributed town-by-town, household-by-household, business sector-by-business sector, or year-by-year. The heterogeneous pattern of outcomes reflects features of a booming resource industry, for example, the size of the workforce, differing skill requirements for the workforce associated with different phases of projects, location of project sites, and the number, pace and life cycle of each element of a project. While there are clear benefits in employment and business incomes, increased mobility and transience in the population can be seen to contribute to significant disruption to social networks, shared norms of behavior and values. Changes in the built environment, with the new buildings, new businesses, and new types of homes can affect residents' sense of identity and place. Although there are indications that communities are responding and adapting to social disruption during the construction phase of CSG development, it is important for the industry, government, and community to take measures to monitor and enhance social capital.

Additive information

The CSG construction phase is now abating and the numbers of fly-in/fly-out workers declining. However, early in 2015, the industry reported that there were still on the order of a thousand wells per year to be drilled during the next 15 years. These figures can fluctuate, and they have since been revised down to around 600, coinciding with a drop in oil and gas prices and greater knowledge of the natural gas resources in the region. This scale of development occurs in an area covering approximately 40,000 square kilometres with 40,000 inhabitants. Questions remain about the degree to which the region – which also exports coal, wheat, and beef – will be subject to highs and lows as international gas prices fluctuate and geology reveals how much natural gas can be extracted in commercially viable quantities. Research to date indicates that the complexity of factors involved calls for considered strategies for ongoing monitoring of impacts and provision of information at the town level to enhance local capacity to service the industry, maintain wellbeing, and achieve regional development aspirations.

Audiences

Implications can be drawn for managers of stakeholder, Indigenous, and community relations, government relations, media relations, and social performance as well as for staff and contractors on worksites, in communities, and on the road. Importantly, there are implications for local content policies, community investment by the industry, and regional development.

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