Drawing upon his extensive experience in the pastoral sector, Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association President David Warriner speaks to Gas Today on how he believes the often contentious relationship between the natural gas industry and the pastoral industry can be better managed.

Having been born into the pastoral industry with a father who managed and owned cattle stations in the Northern Territory (NT), Mr Warriner has a long and rich history working within the industry. It is an area that the NT has drawn a large part of its identity from in the past 150 years, although this heritage of established pastoral operators has been complicated by the meteoric rise of the NT gas industry – making the relationship between the two parties an increasingly conflicted one.

Unlike many in the pastoral sector, Mr Warriner has only had lengthly and positive associations with oil and gas companies – beginning in 1990 when he started managing a cattle station in the Cooper Basin and dealing with Santos.

“We communicated well both in the field and socially. Santos made a real effort to contribute to the community as they were the big business in the area.”

That aside, Mr Warriner concedes that the relationship between the natural gas industry and landholders as well as cattle producers could be better and a big part of that is due to the longstanding debate around water security.

“Water security needs to be guaranteed and it is not at the moment. The arguments put up by gas representatives are fairly spurious. It is often cited that ‘the science says this’ but then another scientist can come out and say the opposite,” says Mr Warriner.

Mr Warriner says water security around aquifers pastoralists use is a major issue that occasionally leads to a bad relationship between pastoralists and the natural gas industry due to what he calls a “lack of manners”.

“It needs to be understood that some of these cattle stations have been in families for up to six generations. They consider the property the same way you consider your home in the city.

“This usually leads to a detrimental impact on land used by our members or pastoralists generally. And this leads to a compromised business position which costs pastoralists a lot of money.”

Mr Warriner says the Petroleum Act confers companies in the natural gas industry rights that are not in the Lands Acquisition (Northern Territory Pastoral Leases) Act 1981 – particularly around access and making money from a gas venture.

Mr Warriner says the two main challenges the natural gas industry faces when it comes to working collaboratively with landholders and cattle producers are credibility and social licence.

“The gas industry needs to be more transparent and willing to give information. Admit and show us the stuff ups around the world. Show us why it happened. Show us how it was fixed. And show us how new technology will ensure it will not happen again.”

Mr Warriner says poor community engagement by gas companies most often rears its head with small, new or privately owned start-ups in the industry.

“These enterprises see that it is cheaper to operate within the Petroleum Act rather than negotiate. The Act certainly favours gas companies.”

Mr Warriner says natural gas producers should support the development of compulsory land access arrangements because it fosters harmony between the two sectors and brings each party to the table in good faith.

“This is not difficult as the terms have to be agreed upon by both sides. The Act is on the gas industry’s side. And it is a platform from which communication and positive relationships can begin,” Mr Warriner says.

Mr Warriner says the pastoral industry also needs to see tangible benefits from the natural gas industry’s presence.

“There are many ways this can be done but they are not happening. These range from receiving a lump sum payment of some sort and contract work to redundant materials that are useful, or works done by gas contractors that can assist the farmer. There are many options.”

With a view to the future, Mr Warriner says the NT economy is on an upward rise but concedes impediments still stand in the way of harmony between pastoralists and the natural gas industry.

“We have a market in Asia that can now afford anything we produce, and we have governments with policies that aim to facilitate this. This has not happened in my lifetime.

“The major constraints to this ambition are land tenure from both pastoralists and traditional owners’ perspective; the lack of infrastructure like roads and ports; and the lack of parameters set around economic analyses in developing these infrastructures.”

He says a corresponding demographic goal needs to be put in place to base economic forecasts on.

“I think with all of this lined up in 20 years’ time, the mining and pastoral industries as well as indigenous communities would all be so far better off than now. That could be a goal, but it can’t be that of one.”