Stakeholder advisory panel for onshore conventional gas

Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria's Lead Scientist

Communique 3

The third meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Panel for the Victorian Gas Program's Onshore Conventional Gas Studies was held in Melbourne on Thursday, 8 March 2018.

Geological model of rock outcrops across Victoria
Geological model of rock outcrops across Victoria
The meeting commenced with a presentation from the Geological Survey of Victoria on the current 3D geological models of the Otway and Gippsland basins. These models capture the sub-surface structure of each basin and will ultimately provide a picture of the presence of onshore conventional gas resources.

A significant objective of the Victorian Gas Program is to refine the current models through seismic data analysis together with rock characterisation studies to produce a much more detailed understanding of each basin's geological structure. The Geological Survey of Victoria is currently presenting these 3D geological models to councils in south west Victoria to explain the scientific approach being taken by the Victorian Gas Program.

At the meeting, Panel members discussed the national gas market, the contribution of Victoria's offshore gas resources, and the possible impact of any onshore conventional gas resources identified through the Victorian Gas Program on gas supply and pricing. I acknowledged that the scientific work being undertaken is at a very early stage and highlighted that it will provide the State with the best picture of Victoria's potential for onshore conventional gas resources. This information will assist government to make future evidence-based decisions about any development of onshore conventional gas resources.

The use of gas as an energy source in the context of the state's carbon emission targets and commitments on climate change was also discussed. A consolidated picture of how government is improving energy efficiency in businesses and households to reduce demand, including initiatives to increase supply of renewable energy, is being prepared to inform the Panel.

A major task of the Panel is to eventually provide government with advice on the risks, benefits and impacts of onshore conventional gas. At the meeting, the Panel began to consider the scope of work needed to be undertaken for this study. An initial environmental risk assessment framework was tabled for Panel members to consider. The study's scope will receive independent expert advice from the Scientific Reference Group throughout the Program.

The Director of Geological Survey of Victoria updated the Panel on the progress of the Victorian Gas Program. Key highlights included:

  • Following months of data review and planning, the geoscience team is in the process of selecting rock samples for analysis of source, seal and reservoir rocks (necessary components of a petroleum resource system). Approximately 1400 samples have been selected for analysis, and a further 1700 samples will be analysed to establish mineral and fossil content.
  • The environmental studies team has now sampled 25 groundwater bores for chemistry content and 42 bores for stygofauna (a miniature creature that may indicate the health of groundwater) in south west Victoria. Groundwater bore testing will begin in Gippsland in late April, and air quality surveying in the Otway Basin is expected to begin in April.  This data will help to establish the existing environmental baseline conditions, which would provide a benchmark for considering the potential risks and impacts of conventional gas activities.
  • To support commercial exploration for further discoveries of gas off Victoria's coast an airborne gravity survey of the Otway Basin will be undertaken. The survey will measure minute differences in gravitational force from different rock strata both onshore and offshore. The data collected will provide a data set of varying rock densities across the basin.
  • Public attending one of the Geological Survey of Victoria's 3D model presentations at Sungold Field Days
    Public attending one of the Geological Survey of Victoria's 3D model presentations at Sungold Field Days
    The community engagement program continues to connect with strategic stakeholders in south west Victoria and Gippsland. A major community engagement initiative was held at Sungold Field Days, one of the largest agricultural shows in south west Victoria, in February 2018. A marquee cinema showing 3D projections of Victoria's geology was set up to show the geology of the Otway Basin and introduce the VGP to farmers, students and community groups.

The next Stakeholder Advisory Panel meeting will be held in June 2018.

Communique 2

The Stakeholder Advisory Panel at the Otway Gas Processing Plant.
The Stakeholder Advisory Panel at the Otway Gas Processing Plant.

The second meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Panel for onshore conventional gas studies was held in south-west Victoria on 9 and 10 November 2017 at Port Campbell and Camperdown and surrounding areas. This region of Victoria in the Otway geological basin is a focus of the Victorian Gas Program.

The meeting commenced on 9 November 2017 with a visit to the Otway Gas Plant and the Halladale and Speculant Well site, near Port Campbell.

The tour of Origin Energy's facility provided the Panel with a first-hand view of a gas processing plant. Origin Energy representatives explained how the facility's design and operational procedures ensure stringent health, safety and environment regulations are met.

The Panel then moved to Nirranda to see the Victorian Gas Program groundwater science team in action, sampling and recording trace chemistry at a groundwater monitoring bore as part of the environmental baseline studies of the Program. 

The Stakeholder Advisory Panel learning about the groundwater monitoring program.
The Stakeholder Advisory Panel learning about the groundwater monitoring program.

On 10 November 2017, the second day of the Stakeholder Advisory Panel's meeting was held in Camperdown.

The discussions covered progress reports on the geoscientific studies, environmental studies and community and stakeholder engagement to date.

The Panel received a briefing on the $1.62 million 3D geological models of the Otway Basin (onshore and offshore) that will be built and how they form the foundation for providing a gas resource estimate. The Panel heard that rock characterisation studies (including chemostratigraphy, porosity and permeability analysis) – key inputs into the 3D geological models – have also commenced.

The onshore environmental science project intends to sample over 100 deep groundwater bores and undertake an atmospheric methane survey to establish regional baseline conditions during 2017 and 2018. To date, 14 water bores have been sampled.

Later in 2018, the environmental program will also investigate existing exploration wells to determine more local baseline conditions.

The overview of the engagement program highlighted that over 80 individual engagements have occurred to date, covering local governments, gas explorers, gas users, regulators and environmental and community groups.  Most engagements have been one-on-one discussions and small group meetings. As the Geological Survey of Victoria Warrnambool team reaches full complement more sophisticated engagements and presentations will commence.

Five media articles about the Victorian Gas Program had been featured in newspapers in south-west and regional Victoria since the program was announced.  Additionally, while the Stakeholder Advisory Panel was in Camperdown, I gave an interview to ABC south west regional radio about the Panel's work.

The Panel's review of the projects to date is providing valuable insights and suggestions to ensure that the scientific studies are meeting the concerns and interests of the various stakeholders connected to the onshore conventional gas studies.

The next Stakeholder Advisory Panel meeting is scheduled for March 2018.

Communique 1

On 17 August 2017, I chaired the inaugural meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Panel for onshore conventional gas studies, which is part of the State Government's Victorian Gas Program.

The Panel has been established by the [former] Minister for Resources, the Hon. Wade Noonan, to oversee the onshore conventional gas geoscientific and environmental studies over the next three years.

The role of the Panel is to provide the Minister for Resources with advice on the risks, benefits and impacts related to onshore conventional gas, with particular attention paid to social, economic and environmental factors.

The Panel will meet regularly over the next three years and includes a broad range of views, including farmers, industry, local government and the community. Panel members are able to provide feedback from the community and other stakeholders as the studies are undertaken.

The Panel members appointed are:

  • Mr Stephen Bell, Chief Executive Officer, Qenos
  • Mr Ben Davis, Secretary Australian Workers' Union Victorian Branch
  • Mr Gerald Leach, Chair of the Victorian Farmers' Federation Land Management Committee
  • Ms Alison Marchant, Secretary of Frack Free Moriac
  • Ms Linda French, Community Development Manager, Lattice Energy (formerly Origin Energy)
  • Mr Tennant Reed, Principal National Adviser, Public Policy, Australian Industry Group
  • Cr Joanne Beard, Mayor of Corangamite Shire and representative of  the Great South Coast Group
  • Mr Mark Wakeham, Chief Executive Officer, Environment Victoria

Minister Noonan welcomed the panel at its inaugural meeting. For the benefit of the panel, the Minister reiterated the course the Victorian Government had taken to legislate to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and coal seam gas, while extending the moratorium on onshore conventional gas to 30 June 2020. He said the moratorium would allow time for a scientific program to assess the potential onshore conventional gas resources of the State. The program will include environmental baseline studies and the community will be actively engaged  over the life of the studies. The results of the study and the panel's work would help guide future decisions about the prospects for onshore conventional gas exploration and development beyond the middle of 2020.

During the meeting, representatives from Geological Survey of Victoria (GSV), the Government's geoscience unit, gave a briefing on the schedule of onshore conventional gas geoscientific and environmental studies that will be conducted.

The focus of the studies will be on the Otway Basin in south west Victoria, particularly between Warrnambool and Port Campbell. The GSV has identified this area as having the greatest potential  for onshore conventional gas.  Some studies will be done in the Gippsland Basin, although based on existing data, the GSV considers this basin to be less likely to hold onshore conventional gas resources than the Otway Basin.

The geoscience studies will involve rock characterisation studies and analysis of current geoscience data. The results will assist in the development of three-dimensional models for the Otway and Gippsland geological basins. The environmental studies in the field will provide baseline data on groundwater chemistry and atmospheric conditions across the Otway and Gippsland basins.

GSV representatives emphasised the importance of community engagement to support the geoscientific and environmental studies. This included insights of engagement activity undertaken to date with local regional councils, community groups, peak industry bodies, water catchment management authorities, gas exploration companies and academics.

An important part of the community engagement program is to progressively provide the results of the studies to the public. Factual information from the studies will be provided to farmers, industry, local government and regional communities. A local team of geology specialists and a dedicated community engagement officer based in Warrnambool will ensure the community remains involved and informed about the studies. In practical terms, this means that there are people on the ground who can answer questions for local residents and landholders.

As Victoria's Lead Scientist and panel chair, I am looking forward to working with the Panel over the next three years.  I am sure the advice we will provide the Minister will assist the Government to make the best decisions possible about onshore conventional gas for all Victorians.

For more information visit the Victorian Gas Program on the Earth Resources website.

Page last updated: 29 March 2018