Energy analyst turns up heat on new gas projects

SMH - Paddy Manning - 28.10.2011

Criticism is growing over the rush to approve coal seam gas proposals.
Senior energy analyst Gundi Royle has broken ranks with her colleagues, attacking industry and regulators for failing to conduct independent regional modelling of the groundwater impacts of up to $80 billion in planned coal seam gas (CSG) development, mostly in Queensland.
Royle, an experienced energy industry executive now with US investment bank Moelis & Company, has told the Herald the coal seam gas industry is “racing ahead to establish a fait accompli, and governments have been negligent in not joining up the dots. Once the capital is sunk it will be impossible to stop the industry rolling over the country.”

Royle, an Australian-trained hydrogeologist now based in France, says the scale of these CSG-to-LNG projects is unprecedented and “groundwater issues will take years to emerge, by which time the industry has taken out the profits, leaving the Australian taxpayer to deal with the liabilities”.

Her concerns echo those of the National Water Commission, which sounded the alarm last year at uncertainty about the cumulative impacts of multiple coal seam gas projects that will together extract an estimated 300-plus gigalitres of salty water each year, including from the Great Artesian Basin. The commission noted coal seam gas posed a “substantial risk to sustainable water management” and called for a more precautionary approach.

As an analyst, Royle has previously raised these concerns in her private notes to banking clients. She says she is prepared to come under pressure for speaking out against the industry. Other analysts face potential conflicts of interest, she says, where their firms raise capital for the coal seam gas companies.

The state and federal governments are focused on the revenue from the four CSG-to-LNG projects, she says.
”Once they get going they’re very cash-rich but they need to march on, to feed the LNG manufacturing plants. The industry will just roll over the country. It’s too late to stop them now, in my view.
”Australian voters should know they will be carrying the can.”

Industry and government failure to conduct regional and predictive aquifer modelling led Royle to “coin a new phrase for Australia: omission corruption”. State governments were so enamoured with projected revenue “they cannot regulate efficiently. They have failed from the outset. They are trying to run behind the ambulance but they will not be able to catch it”.

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