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Background

In 2015, the GasFields Commission Queensland conducted a major stocktake of land rehabilitation and engagement practices of the three (3) major gas pipeline easements connecting the Surat Basin gas fields to the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export facilities in Gladstone in Queensland.

These pipelines were constructed between 2012 and 2015, and cover a combined length of almost 1,500 kilometres, or about the equivalent distance from Brisbane to Cairns.

The purpose of the stocktake was to identify lessons learned by onshore gas operators, pipeline contractors and rural landholders to help inform current and future land rehabilitation and engagement practices.

The stocktake drew on desktop research, mapping, telephone discussions, a survey questionnaire, and onsite visits with individual landholders, as well as meetings with relevant government agencies and staff from the onshore gas operators.

It included sixty-four (64) property locations of different land types and rural operations, representing a significant proportion of the combined export pipeline easements.

The following are ten (10) key learnings drawing largely from landholders' experiences during construction and the subsequent rehabilitation phase of these pipelines.

1. Communication with landholders critical to good relations

The stocktake highlighted the value of high quality, long-term land access liaison staff who are knowledgeable about rural industries, are in regular contact with landholders and who have the authority within a company to action issues and deal with contractors.

Many landholders stressed the importance of effective land access staff not only in the lead-up to and during construction, but also post construction. A number of landholders were unclear about future arrangements to manage ongoing issues such as access, weed control, subsidence etc.

Effective landholder communications can help minimise additional costs for the operator.

2. Contractor management key to best practice

Effective communication between the pipeline operator and its major contractors during construction is very important. Outcomes are likely to improve if the operator remains the central point of contact with the landholder, rather than devolving this to contractors.

Operators need to lay down clear expectations about the contractor's conduct on the landholder's property, in their formal agreements with contractors. These expectations should align with the Conduct and Compensation Agreement (CCA) between the company and the landholder.

Follow up on contractor issues is important. Some contractors were reported to be unaware of the issues raised by landholders. A failure by pipeline operators to follow up on issues raised by landholders caused unnecessary friction and time delays.

3. Level of compensation to be relative to total impact

Landholders' satisfaction with compensation was not high, relative to the level of disturbance they experienced.

Some landholders observed that the compensation failed to take into account the time involved away from their rural business, including time spent monitoring operator and contractor activities and dealing with a breakdown in communications between the two parties.

Landholders also stressed the importance of documenting everything, getting legal advice and looking very carefully at the terms and definitions in any agreement.

4. Multiple pipelines require coordination and cooperation

Landholders along the State Development Corridor (SDC) near Gladstone with pipelines of all three operators on their properties wished to see greater oversight and co-ordination by the State Government of the construction process to reduce unnecessary impacts.

This may include requiring SDCs to be fenced and co-locating multiple infrastructure projects on an individual property to minimise the impacts on landholders.

Some landholders outside the SDC with multiple pipelines on their property, expressed frustration about the lack of co-operation between operators to reduce impacts.

5. Tapping local knowledge can lead to better outcomes for all

The construction of the three gas pipelines represents a major investment. Yet operators did not always make best use of local landholder knowledge, especially during the early project planning stages.

In some landholder's views, operators could have saved time and money and reduced their impacts if they had consulted landholders more about issues such as the location of the pipeline, local knowledge of the landscape, topography and flooding, as well as rural business and community expectations.

With more resources allocated to early landholder engagement during the planning stage, operators could identify economic efficiencies during construction, as well as producing longer term savings by building effective relationships with landholders.

6. Keeping on top of soil subsidence

Some subsidence which is likely post construction was observed in some locations during the stocktake.

Any measure to address subsidence such as adding topsoil should take into account prevention of weeds spread within a property.

Landholders suggested that operators be required to stockpile topsoil for remediation use that is specific to the property or site location. This would help avoid weed seed contamination.

7. Weed management requires joint effort

Weed management during and post construction remains a major concern for landholders including the introduction of a range of weeds, such as Parthenium, African lovegrass, galvanised burr, Noogoora burr and thorn apple.

Some landholders reported incidences of pipeline operators or their contractors failing to conduct adequate vehicle wash-downs or provide weed hygiene declarations, contrary to terms and conditions in their CCAs. The time delay between raising a weed infestation issue and the implementation of control measures (i.e. after the weeds had seeded) is also a concern.

Operators and landholders need to clearly articulate their expectations relating to weed prevention and control prior to the commencement of activities.

A weed baseline assessment for the property before construction activities commence is a useful way to monitor and manage any potential future weed impacts. Operators could also draw on landholders' services to control weeds, to ensure timely and effective weed management strategies.

8. Fencing the easement can be a valued investment

One operator adopted the practice of fencing the easement. Other operators also fenced the easement on a limited number of individual properties, subject to landholder agreement.

Fencing during construction and early rehabilitation phases increased the initial capital outlay for pipeline operators. However, overall it appeared to deliver better rehabilitation outcomes and fewer problems for landholders, reducing the overall project costs.

According to landholders, fencing the easement helped improve the rehabilitation of the easement by excluding grazing pressure from livestock.

Fencing also assisted in containing contractors' activities during construction. A number of stock deaths caused by falling into open trenches on unfenced lines could have been avoided if the easements had been fenced.

9. Property and business security brings peace of mind

Gates left open during construction, impacted on landholders' businesses, livestock management, personal and property security.

Such incidents often led to increased compensation costs and created an ongoing point of friction between operators and landholders.

Operators should consider increasing use of cattle grids (in lieu of gates and subject to landholder agreement), not only during construction but on an ongoing basis. While grids would increase capital costs, they would effectively address the issues of gates left open.

10. Specific rural industry requirements need to be understood

Operators and contractors were not always attentive to specific requirements associated with landholders' businesses, e.g. rural industry accreditation schemes such as grass fed and organic status.

There were also reports of problems with cropping systems due to physical impacts on controlled traffic cropping systems or fitting in with cropping cycles.

Landholders need to document their special requirements and proactively communicate these to the company and contractor as part of their land access negotiations.

GasFields Commission Queensland's Role

The pipeline stocktake aligns with the GasFields Commission's function of obtaining and publishing factual information to improve knowledge and promote better understanding among rural landholders, regional communities and onshore gas industry in Queensland.

The GasFields Commission has also shared insights from rural landholders about their real-life experiences and tips dealing with the onshore gas industry in Queensland, including pipeline construction.

Pipeline Pointers - Learnings from Pipeline Stocktake in Queensland

Pipeline Pointers - Learnings from Pipeline Stocktake in Queensland Topic Sheet (PDF icon 374 KB)