Gas miners a catalyst for conflict

CONFLICT over coal seam gas mining is set to explode as communities react against rogue operators whose wild-west cowboy antics are indefensible, the annual environment conference of the industry's peak body was told at Coolum this week.

Professor Wendy Sarkissian, Australia's leading engagement practitioner, told the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association that the industry was only as good as its worst players.

She said it ran the risk that huge social conflict incited by "renegade standover merchants who were now in the business of wreaking havoc in the Surat Basin and Northern NSW" would lead to bans on the industry.

Dr Sarkissian, who holds a PhD in environmental ethics and is an adjunct professor to Bond, Curtin and British Columbia universities and a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, said the industry had to act to rein in its rogue elements.

Her call came as the NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson yesterday announced the Labor Party policy for a moratorium on all new coal seam gas licenses.

Fresh polls showed the Nationals in that state had lost half their support because of indecision on the issue. At the same time the Greens vote rose 3.7%.

In her keynote speech to the conference, Working Collaboratively with Communities: Community Engagement with Resource Companies, she accused young companies with young inexperienced engineers and geologists who thought only about maximizing profits quickly were running "grab-it-and-run" operations that were simply not interested in engaging in protracted debate.

"It will end in tears and is ending in tears,'' Ms Sarkissian said following her presentation.

She quoted clinical psychologist Wayne Somerville's September submission to the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the industry in which he claimed the issue was causing more problems for land owners than flood, drought, fire and recession.

Dr Sarkissian said the industry needed to understand that in disempowering people it was exciting two fundamental psychological indices at their core - water and home.

"Mess with either and they risk unleashing deep forces no cowboy geologist can control,'' she said.

"Sophisticated and committed green activities won't let farmers die. But the industry should also beware of farmers' wives."

Dr Sarkissian spoke to Bowen Basin mayors, activists in northern NSW and miners in preparing her address and named Santos and Origin as two companies that had set out to engage communities properly.

Origin was conducting "sacred place" mapping that identified areas that were important to people, even if it were where their uncle and aunt first kissed.

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