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University reports on results of Lismore’s coal seam gas exit survey


Sharlene King
30 January 2013

A significant number of Lismore residents are prepared to change their mind about coal seam gas if more credible evidence comes to light, according to new research from Southern Cross University.

The report, ‘Community perspectives of coal seam gas developments’ , analysed the results of an exit survey conducted by the University during the Lismore local government elections in September 2012.

Report co-author and PhD candidate Hanabeth Luke said a random selection of 1036 survey participants (4.2 per cent of the total number of voters in the election) took part in the exit survey.

“Interestingly, it was those in support of CSG (83 per cent), rather than opponents (53 per cent), who said they were more open to changing their minds should more credible evidence become available,” Miss Luke said.

Dr David Lloyd, Miss Luke’s supervisor, said the results showed that more information about the impacts of CSG activity needed to be made available.

“We have reasonable people on both sides of the debate. They have specific concerns and what they want is more information. If that information was coming from an independent and trusted arbiter many people would consider changing their minds,” he said.

The exit survey explored a sample of voters’ responses to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) administered referendum-style question, ‘Do you support coal seam gas exploration and production in the Lismore City Council area?’ where 86.9 per cent voted ‘no’. The AEC poll was conducted as part of the Lismore City Council elections in September 2012.

Miss Luke said the exit survey results provided an insight into the community’s intentions, perspectives and concerns about the industry.

“The survey provided a unique opportunity to get a handle on what underlies people’s decision-making.”

The primary concerns of non-supporters of CSG were water quality, community health, and the impacts of the industry on environment and social and economic conditions.

“Water quality seems to be a community concern as it relates directly to the economic viability of those relying on both the aquifer, which could be breached or polluted, and the pollution of streams from failing to contain contaminated water from production wells,” Dr Lloyd said.

For supporters, the primary benefits of CSG were jobs for the region, contribution to the economy, and infrastructure.

The researchers were able to determine where the community gets its information about the CSG industry.

“The most significant information source for all respondents is, overwhelmingly, word of mouth, followed by local press, with a notable proportion claiming to use scientific literature,” said Miss Luke.

Findings contained in the report showed the topic of CSG had the potential to cause disharmony within the community.

“Among those identifying as non-supporters of CSG, around three-quarters of participants reported they were in complete agreement with family members and friends on the issue,” Miss Luke said.

“However, only one in five CSG supporters completely agreed with the views of those close to them.”

She said that at the conclusion of the survey when participants were given the opportunity to make further comments on the topic of CSG, the main community concerns related to corporate responsibility, transparency of process, information sharing and public education.

“Despite a significant proportion of respondents commenting that as a community they felt they can have an impact on government decision-making, a large degree of cynicism regarding government decision-making was apparent within the individual responses,” said Miss Luke.

The exit survey forms part of a larger PhD research project looking at stakeholder perspectives on coal seam gas and other related gas mining developments, whilst seeking to gain a comprehensive view of the interrelated factors by bringing together perspectives of scientists, policy makers, industry and community members alike. The research is being carried out by Hanabeth Luke, a doctoral candidate from the Southern Cross University School of Environment, Science and Engineering.

The exit survey was funded by SCU’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering PhD research budget and a $1500 grant from oil and gas industry association Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia.

Lismore City Council engaged Southern Cross University to assist in designing and researching a separate referendum-style question to guide the Council’s response to the issue of coal seam gas. A research team from the School of Environment, Science and Engineering consulted all appropriate stakeholder groups to provide the Council with advice on the wording of the poll question, which was debated and adopted by the councillors. The poll question was put to the Lismore City Council electorate as part of the Council elections in September 2012, and was independently administered by the Australian Electoral Commission. The research team also received approval from the Council to conduct the exit survey.

Photo: PhD candidate Hanabeth Luke (centre) with coal seam gas exit survey volunteers, Sophia Atzori and Joe Rassaby.