February 19, 2014

If ever there was a stark warning about the need for NSW to develop its natural gas resources, it was delivered this week in the form of a thumping 20 per cent annual increase in gas bills.

Reports that the annual gas bill for Sydney-siders will rise by up to $200 show there is now too much at stake for the impasse regarding gas development to remain.

This week the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman visited Curtis Island off Gladstone where almost $70 billion worth of projects will soon deliver natural gas from coal seams to the rest of the world.

Queenslanders know how to stimulate an economy. Industry has created 30,000 jobs and provided $115 million to regional communities. Landholders are benefiting by signing more than 4300 land access agreements.

But over the last two years in NSW, scrambled policies have left gas producers dazed and confused.

The impasse preventing the development of the state’s abundant gas resources to put downward pressure on rising prices has to be broken.

The NSW Government has rightly acknowledged as much.

It can be done safely, to the highest professional standards and with negligible impact on the environment.

One need only look at the industry’s proven track record in Queensland over 20 years and in western Sydney for a decade to realise the horror stories perpetuated by the Green movement are as frail as the motives they pretend to encapsulate.

Strong leadership is required to encourage further exploration and development of natural gas from coal seams. Without it the rude shock awaiting the state’s 1.3 million gas users looms larger by the day.

The gas industry must keep working hard with government and local communities to ensure the people of NSW (and their elected leaders) have a fact-based conversation and a science-based regulatory regime to underpin operations.

It gives me no pleasure to see the NSW Labor party parroting the lines of the Greens and showing itself to be completely irrelevant to the debate. It appears the party remains oblivious of the need to shore up gas supply, create jobs and attract investment.

Calls for gas reservation and policies that manipulate the domestic gas market to deliver below-market gas prices will not alleviate the many challenges facing east coast gas users.

It would, however, serve as a successful deterrent to the very investment that the state so desperately needs and it would damage the wider economy.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you want to put downward pressure on gas prices, then we need to develop more gas supply.

This was first published in the Daily Telegraph on 20 February.

Martin Ferguson AM is  Chair of the APPEA Advisory Board and former Federal Resources and Energy Minister.